"Warrior needs food, badly!"
Making a reboot can be a dangerous gamble--nostalgia's a powerful stimulant, but some game mechanics just can't survive the test of time. Take the core values and refurbish them with contemporary designs, however, and you've got something that can please old-school fans and bright-eyed newcomers alike. Such is the hope for Gauntlet, a modernized reboot of Midway's classic top-down adventure, as envisioned by Arrowhead Game Studios (which famously brought the chaotic co-op of Magicka into the world).
This Gauntlet is solely focused on re-envisioning the 1985 arcade original, meaning you won't find any references to Gauntlet Legends and Dark Legacy (shucks) or Seven Sorrows (thank God). But how exactly will it update the classic Gauntlet gameplay to appeal to fans of today's hack-'n'-slash action games? To find out, I talked to Axel Lindberg, game director at Arrowhead, about how this new Gauntlet plays off everything you love from the classic co-op dungeon crawler.
It's got the classic cast of characters
The adventurers from the original Gauntlet return with all the timeless medieval fantasy tropes and gloriously 80s character designs to boot. There's Thor, the buff, axe-wielding Warrior; stoic, javelin-tossing Valkyrie Thyra; a white-bearded Wizard of course named Merlin; and Questor, the stereotypically brooding Elf (which, funnily enough, can be both a class and a race). Of course, the foursome have all gotten facelifts for the new Gauntlet, like the fact that the Valkyrie actually wears full plate armor instead of an ill-advised bikini. But the adventurers' updates aren't limited to aesthetics...
with some substantial upgrades
To make each character feel distinct in the new Gauntlet, their specialties have been designed to make them a little more unique. "In the 1985 version, all four heroes had one ranged attack. We chose to redesign the heroes to give them each a bigger set of actions," says Lindberg. "We also made the Warrior and Valkyrie melee classes, while the Elf and Wizard are of course still ranged." And, like most action RPGs on the market, unique abilities help spice up the typical hacking and slashing. Lord help any monster caught in the Warrior's whirlwind spinning attack, or the poor skeletons at the receiving end of the Valkyrie's shield throw attack.
Traditional items are still important
Everyone remembers the constant need for food in Gauntlet, as well as the satisfying feeling of preparedness once you've hoarded a huge number of keys. Those iconic items will apparently be just as commonplace in the new Gauntlet's dank dungeons. "We wanted to make a game that clearly was a re-imagining of [the original], so we started by talking about what specific mechanics, concepts, and features that together made Gauntlet the game that it was," says Lindberg. "Some of the first things that popped up in that meeting were the keys, the turkey dinners that someone suspiciously had left throughout that creepy old dungeon--and the [huts churning out] endless hordes of monsters that charged into the rooms."
...as are new artifacts called Relics
In addition to the class abilities, Arrowhead has also added a new twist to the Gauntlet formula. Players are able to equip two Relics: magical items which grant new powers that expand your innate abilities. In an ingenious move, the raw power of these additional spells is tempered by friendly fire. Outbreaks of playful teamkilling and general chaos are bound to erupt with Relics added to the mix. "I've caused the sudden end of our adventuring party on several occasions when using the Freeze Ring--an artifact that freezes [any nearby characters]," recalls Lindberg. "I panicked and set it off when all my friends were standing too close to me. My friends turned to ice; the monsters slowly ate them, and then all swarmed on me. It was a ridiculously horrible way to go."
The quarter-munching health system is a thing of the past
Like any arcade game, the original Gauntlet was designed with a primary goal in mind: keep players pumping quarters into the machine. Remember how it always seemed like you needed food, badly? Your health constantly depletes by a miniscule amount each second, even if there isn't a single enemy in sight. If you stand still, your death is assured; conversely, beginners could simply compensate for their lack of skill with an extra-large stash of coins. With the modern Gauntlet, there's no need for such a subtly exploitative design, which is thankfully a thing of the past. But how did Lindberg and his team retain the spirit of this money-for-life system? Don't worry, it's NOT microtransactions...
but coins are still your lifeblood
Dungeons and ancient treasure troves go hand-in-hand--but in the new Gauntlet, riches aren't just for hoarding. "We wanted to find a way to keep the concept of paying to keep playing further, so instead we did this using the gold you find in-game," says Lindberg. "Each time you die, you will need to pay an amount of your collected gold to resurrect and continue. If you run out of gold, you essentially run out of lives. We felt this was a great fit for the game, as Gauntlet has always been a game about greed--and how one players greed can lead to certain doom for the entire party." If you know what's good for you, you'll spread the love and share the loot with your pals so that you can bribe Death himself when the time is right.
Multiplayer cooperation is essential to the Gauntlet experience
Many a friendship has been forged by the camaraderie inherent to Gauntlet. Figuring out with your friends the best way to tackle a swarm of angry ghosts or rescuing a buddy when they've been cornered by demons makes for tons of memorable moments. "To us at Arrowhead, multiplayer is what its all about," says Lindberg. "We make games [like Magicka, Helldivers, and The Showdown Effect] that are meant to be played with a bunch of friends; games that allow for foolishness and thereby create drama between the people playing it. Those moments that usually create the loudest yells and laughs around the TV."
as are the occasional bits of disastrous multiplayer misfortune
For every time that you save a fellow adventurer, there's probably multiple instances where you accidentally (or perhaps purposefully, you devil) got them killed in the heat of battle. And that's just fine in a Gauntlet game. "Basically, our philosophy is to make games that allow players the freedom to be total jerks to their friends," jokes Lindberg."[The original Gauntlet] was one of the first games that introduced co-op multiplayer where friends could cause trouble for each other. Going first down a narrow corridor was always a bad idea, because your friends were usually blocking your escape behind you [if you were getting overwhelmed]. Also, the classic mechanic that allowed players to 'shoot the food' is a perfect example of that type of [mischievous] gameplay."
No two adventures will be quite alike
Those who didn't conquer Gauntlet back in the '80s may not know that it incorporates a good deal of randomness. Precious food can spawn in a variety of locations, and past a certain level, each new dungeon you entered is randomly selected from an enormous pool of varied layouts. In keeping with that tradition of unpredictable dungeon diving, the modern Gauntlet's levels are all procedurally generated, similar to Diablo 3 or Torchlight 2. But as with any good, twitchy roguelike experience--Spelunky, Rogue Legacy, Risk of Rain, et al.--a combination of experience, reflexes, and quick thinking will let you conquer whatever randomized map Fate hands you.
but pure skill is always the path to victory
"As with the 1985 version, this Gauntlet is not a game where players grind levels and gain power through stats and numbers--it is all about player skill," says Lindberg. Unlike many hack-'n'-slash games, your killing prowess won't hinge on a full set of crazy-rare drops or perfectly rolled items--it'll ideally boil down to how good you are at the game. And because of the randomized layouts, you'll constantly be pushing yourself to see if you can get just a little farther than the previous run. "Our goal is to make the hardest difficulty levels challenging to the degree where you will need to really master the game to get through it," says Lindberg. "Unlocking more powerful Relics will give you an advantage, but in the end--it will all come down to skill.
"I've not seen such bravery!"
Looks like this new Gauntlet could blend everything you love about the arcade classic with Arrowhead's knack for hilariously fun multiplayer insanity. Sounds good to me! What do you want to see from the new Gauntlet? Let your voice be heard in the comments below, then keep checking back for more Gauntlet coverage as the game nears release.
And if you're looking for more, check out The best co-op games ever and 6 hilarious, must-see builds for Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls.