Atari - 1985
Machine: Arcade, and many others
Genre: Character Shooter
Gauntlet was one of Atari's greatest hits, even managing to succeed during the drop in demand for arcade games that occurred in the mid 80s. It was designed by the man who was responsible for Asteroids, Mr. Ed Logg. The game smartly cashed in on the popularity of role playing games (Dungeons and Dragons, for example) and transposed these fantasy elements onto a chunky arcade machine that had - wait for it - FOUR joysticks. Wow! This game was one of the earliest multi-player experiences that one could have. Again, Atari showed that they were way ahead of their time.
There were four characters to choose from: Tough but slow Thor coincidentally looked a bit like He-Man; Thyra the Valkyrie, meanwhile, was an all-rounder, offering a balance between speed and power; Questor the Elf was quick but couldn't even harm a small animal; Lastly, Merlin the Wizard was the magical expert but was less than convincing when brandishing the sharp end of his wand. On the original Gauntlet you could only choose the hero that had not already been taken, so there could only be one of each character in your party of four. Still, if you played a four player game the group was well balanced in it's abilities.
Your gang has to traverse the multitude of mazes, collecting potions, food and treasure whilst killing off the baddies that lurk within the dungeons. There are 'generators' that churn out monsters, so it's usually a good idea to destroy these to tip the odds in your favour. Because, lets face it, there are just so many, many monsters to battle. The various creatures that you have to face include Ghosts, Grunts and even Death herself (ha ha.) One of the nicest quirks of Gauntlet is that each character has a health meter that constantly counts down, even if your character is just standing there. So, like us all, the Gauntlet heroes are slowly dying. You can pep yourself up with food but there isn't enough to go around. So you need to be generous to your fellow players, allowing them to take the food because they need it more. Yeah, right. Like that kind of behaviour lasts long.
Another great piece of innovation is the use of speech. The game talks to you, from advising you on aspects of the game to admonishing players for being too greedy. I suppose the voice sounds a bit like Stephen Hawking, but at the time it was a truly amazing innovation. I think the fact that the game actually used the speech as part of the game was very clever; many of today's games are full of superfluous sounds, probably part of the games industry's strange desire to be more like movies. Not so Gauntlet: it was all there for a reason.
Basically, Gauntlet is great. The four player action is terrific fun and it is one of the few games that tries to overwhelm the player with the sheer number of baddies... couple this with the clever use of sound and you have an all-time great game.
Bubbaray 22 Aug '03
Gauntlet Warriors - Good tribute page to the classic game.
Wikipedia's Gauntlet page - Lots of great information.