I have very few positive memories of childhood with my Dad – he was more interested in getting drunk or wrecked on drugs than being a parent, but Gauntlet 2 was a rare highlight. Every now and then we’d plug in a joystick each and tackle the dungeons, that rare moment of him not making perfectly clear that he thought I was a waste of space.
We open with that shot of the arcade cabinet as the game loads, then the shot of our four heroes as the sampled music plays ominously. The palette is scrolled to animate the logo, and then we get a short instructional screen telling us what’s an enemy, what’s food, and so on, and we all know that Red Valkyrie shot the food. The bitch.
Welcome, red warrior. That sample greeted you, and a unique sample for any other player who joined the game. The sound on this game was something special and lent it incredible charm – something I would later experience with classics like Mega Lo Mania (which was ergonomically terrific) and Stronghold where the people loathed me sire. It’s amazing how the right voice sample can just make a huge difference, adding so much charm, and when you hear it decades later it can take you right back.
For those who don’t know, Gauntlet is a top-down game where you and up to 3 other players (though the 3rd and 4th required an adaptor most people didn’t have) can wander around shooting enemies, collecting treasure, eating (or shooting) the food, and trying to get to the next level without dying.
Enemy behaviour wasn’t particularly sophisticated – for the most part a mob would swarm towards you in the fastest straight line route and would thus be outwitted by a wall, but that’s fine – that was enemy behaviour not as AI but as a puzzle to solve. You could be creative picking up the amulets to gain invisibility or invulnerability, or you could just rush through and take the hits and hope you found enough food to keep you going. A wise man would always, however, take out the spawn points if possible to end the wave of enemies. A wise man also avoids the god damn teleport amulet because you can’t pick anything up.
There was one enemy though which was particularly nasty. Death. Red warrior is about to die. I was never entirely clear what the black thing was, it looked a bit like a tap, but maybe it was a wizard in a dark robe. Who knows. Either way, it put the shits right up me.
Levels were wonderfully creative with walls switching on timers releasing or containing the mob, flashing floor segments either draining life or triggering level alterations (usually removing a wall). Keys would open gates, and potions would help clear an area. Graphics were technically nothing special but consider the number of sprites being thrown around, and consider that the graphics were always distinctive, you could tell what everything was and its purpose was clear, in a way a triumph of art style over technicality.
For me, Gauntlet 2 still holds up brilliantly though I think it would hold up better as a twin-stick game – it would certainly be easier.