Over the years I rented games from every system that I could. From NES to SNES to Sega Genesis to DS to Wii--if my local video store had a little plastic box representing a game I was interested in, I would snag that box and hope for the best. Usually it was mixed bag of hit and miss good times and bad. However, there were times when I would pick up a game and it would remind me of a game I had already played.
No, I'm not referring to the countless space shooters that seemed to be a staple of 80's retro gaming. I'm talking about the times a game reminded me of something I had already played on the Atari 800 my parents owned. Sure, M.U.L.E. was M.U.L.E. whether on the Atari or NES--but there were those games which were basically clones of other games that had already appeared on the Atari.
Gauntlet for the NES came in a cartridge that was unlike any other I had seen up to that point. That black molded plastic was a bit of an oddity to me at the time. The oddly tapered, but appealing look of the cartridge immediately set it apart. Most noticeable to me was the lack of the Official Nintendo Seal of approval. I remember thinking at the time I was possibly doing something wrong by putting it in my machine. What if it broke the system? What if the cart acted screwy and didn't function? That would mean no game for the weekend! Or worse, what if Nintendo found out what I had done and I wasn't allowed to use my NES anymore?
(Okay, I wasn't just a total Nintendo fanboy back in the day--still am--and I admit that this sounds silly now, but as a kid this was a real concern of mine.)
So just what did I get when I popped in Gauntlet by Tengen? Did my beloved NES explode? Did a Nintendo rep batter down my door and berate me for treacherously putting in an unlicensed game? Or did my older brother and I realize we were basically playing an upgraded version of Dandy?
So what was special about the game in the day and does it still hold up?
Music and Sound
Unlike Dandy, the sound effects are quite a bit better with little grunts and yells as you guide your character through the dozens upon dozens of murder mazes. Popping this game in again, the sounds when you hit an enemy and as you fire your weapon are as familiar and welcome as they were back in the day. It's funny how I used to think at times the audio sounded scratchy at times, but now it makes me smile as I remember how I was satisfied that I had actually hit my target enemy.
So, here's where I normally talk about the music. Except, there are many tracks for the various levels in Gauntlet and truthfully, only one immediately comes to mind when I think of Gauntlet, and that's the music for the title screen and the first set of levels. I love the medieval sounds and the harpsichord-like quality of the tune that conveys something both adventurous and mysterious. So when I went looking for the song on Youtube, I ran across this great rendition of it and just had to share.
"Orchestral Version Gauntlet"
For purists, here's a copy of the original 8-bit version, and yes, it holds up just as well as back in the day:
Graphic and Style
No longer were we playing as anthropomorphic numbers running along on little legs and slinging directional arrows at skulls and happy faces. Now we were wizards, elves, warriors and warrior-esses fighting against ogres, ghosts, and a host of other creatures! Sure the blocks got an upgrade too, but they were less important to us than the fact that our characters actually had a bit of definition. Yeah the ghosts look a little goofy now, and there's a certain bit of repetitiveness going on with the levels (many areas just getting a palette swap) but it doesn't detract from the fun.
Control and Gameplay
This still plays as solid as it did back in the day. You race around grabbing keys, treasures, and potions as you battle seemingly unending hordes of monsters all in your quest to get to the final dungeon, slay the villain and save the kingdom. You know, your basic classic adventure stuff. I can't say much more other than when you have a dungeon crawler like this and you're spending much of the time surrounded by enemies, it's nice to know that if you get surrounded and die it's your own fault. I can't tell you how many games I played in the day where I'd get surrounded by legions of monsters and die simply because the stupid controls didn't respond.
I can't say we ever got that far in this game. Even when my brother and I plugged along and played for a couple of hours, we were renting, and didn't actually own this game. As you might imagine, it has a bit of an effect on you when you know that you may or may not ever rent the game again. Sometimes it can me you try all the harder to beat the game--other times you give up sooner, realizing that a single weekend just isn't enough time to get to the end of a game. It's nice to actually own the game after all this time because now I can finally do what I was unable to do back in the day. At long last I can make my way through the seemingly endless dungeons. At long last I can make a go of winning the game...
either that or pick up something else after I get frustrated from hours of seemingly fruitless playing. Whichever comes first.