When the original Gauntlet debuted in 1985, it became an instant hit at arcades, revolutionizing multiplayer gaming. Gauntlet was among the first games to offer a four-player, simultaneous action experience, and its quarter-munching records were considerable. Several sequels have spawned from the original, including Gauntlet II, which saw the addition of dragons but didn't really mess with the original game's formula too much. Gauntlet Legends took the series to 3D, and Gauntlet Dark Legacy is an upgraded version of Legends. This 3D incarnation has appeared on several different consoles in both Legends and Dark Legacy forms with varying degrees of mediocrity. The GameCube version doesn't buck this trend--it provides a passable four-player experience, but the game's extremely dated appearance and poor performance keep it from competing with other four-player GameCube games.
The game's storyline, while almost completely unnecessary, places you as one of a series of heroes who are destined to rid the land of an evil mage named Garm and his demonic summonings so that his brother, the rightful ruler of the land, and your wizardly benefactor, Sumner, can return to power. Up to four characters must travel through eight different lands and several hidden areas to collect powerful artifacts, rune stones, and gems that lead to a final boss battle with Garm himself.
Each of the eight different characters available at the outset has his or her own particular advantages and disadvantages. The warrior and dwarf classes are easily the strongest melee fighters--at high level, they're able to turn junk into valuable treasures, but they're cursed with pathetic magical capabilities. The knight and valkyrie are the heavily armored pair, thus being able to withstand more punishment, while at high level they can nullify the effects of traps. The jester and archer are extremely fast, and they benefit from an efficient rate of fire with their bombs and arrows, respectively. Later in the game, they can reveal hidden passages. The arcane sorceress and wizard characters make best use of the game's magic, and at high level they can transform poisoned food into its more edible counterpart. Each character's weaknesses can be lessened by raising his or her statistics at a between-level store. Characters also gain experience points and levels as they fight. The action, which basically boils down to you hammering on the attack button for hours at a time, gets extremely repetitive and is broken up only by brief bonus areas (which let you unlock hidden characters by picking up coins in a classically themed Gauntlet maze) or the equally amusing and fairly challenging boss battles.
Gauntlet: Dark Legacy's gameplay is fairly intuitive, with each character able to pull off weak and strong attacks, use magic, and execute other maneuvers such as strafing, blocking, and using turbo. Each character has the ability to strike at a range, either by shooting a projectile, like an arrow, or throwing his or her actual physical weapons. When in melee combat, each character can pull off a variety of combos, which are useful for dealing with crowds of enemies. Magic, as in the original Gauntlet, comes in the form of potions, now color-coded to signify what type of magic they release. Potions can be shot from a distance to detonate at a range or be picked up for later use. These potions can then be consumed to provide an elemental shield or thrown for offensive effect. There are also a great variety of power-ups, which are activated with the controller's D-pad. Characters can find weapon augmentations, antideath abilities, and can even transform into a fire-breathing chicken.
While the single-player mode is long enough to provide for lengthy solo play sessions, the strength of Dark Legacy is its multiplayer capabilities. Up to four players can join the game, each using an individual character and thus covering for each other's weaknesses. Playing Gauntlet with four players is really the only way to go, because it's the human interaction element that makes this type of bland hack-and-slash affair playable.
Sadly, while this version of Gauntlet: Dark Legacy features all the secrets, characters, and levels of the arcade version, it falls way short of current console standards in terms of graphics and sound. First and foremost, the GameCube version suffers from a slow, stuttery frame rate, giving the game a choppy feel that detracts from what excitement may be derived from fighting a screen full of enemies. The environments, character models, and effects in the game seem almost primitive considering the GameCube's capabilities. However, there are some fairly nice grass and stone textures in some levels, and the moving, frothing water does look pretty good. These high points are offset by the game's weak animation routines, flat-shaded backgrounds, and poor use of lighting and particle effects.
Gauntlet: Dark Legacy is equally bland from an audio standpoint. The yelps and cries of the various characters are adequately done, while the sounds of battle--consisting mostly of explosions and weapon clashes--are equally fair. The game's music and ambient sound are either poorly recorded or simply not emphasized throughout the game, although there are some fairly spooky, howling exceptions. The traditional Gauntlet voice, whose wonderfully retro cries of "Knight needs food badly!" and "Red Knight has gained a level!" has been given form by Sumner and is as booming and abrasive as ever.
Ultimately, Gauntlet: Dark Legacy is a dated game that has seen slightly better releases on other systems. While the other aspects of the game have remained relatively intact, the GameCube version's frame rate issues give the game an extremely rough appearance. The message most clearly stated by Gauntlet: Dark Legacy may be that Midway should concentrate on creating something new instead of releasing console ports of 4-year-old arcade technology.