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Video Game Review: Gauntlet Legends

Greg Kuhnen -- The Tech
John Plourde explores a desert city in Gauntlet Legends
By Josh Bittker

The success of a video game can be measured by how much money it brings in and by how enjoyable it is to play. Gauntlet Legends wins on both counts. It has action that is as addictive as many of the other well know hits around today. Unlike some modern simulation games that require an investment of dollars at a time and provide 45 seconds worth of play, Legends provides the feeling that something is being accomplished while pulling the coins from your pocket.

A remake of the original Gauntlet from the 80's, Legends is another great example of how far video game design has come. The best features from the original game, including 4 player cooperative play, the omnipresent voice providing advice (and imploring you to sink more money into the game), and enemies such as Death are all revisited in this version. (Death steals 100 points if you don't use magic on it, and each 50 cent credit buys 500 health; in what other game can you say that Death costs 10 cents?) In addition, there is a rich storyline and a great improvement on game play and involvement.

The goal of the game is to collect the 4 keys required to open the Altar of Skorne, as well as the 12 rune stones to defeat the enemy found there. There are 4 realms to choose from, each with several levels. The rune stones are hidden throughout the realms, while the keys are held by the bosses at the end of each realm.

There are several more subtle themes throughout the game. Each player control corresponds to a color (red, blue, green, and yellow) and each color corresponds to one of the four realms (mountain, castle, forest, and pyramid). The appearances of each character varies depending on the color being used; for example, yellow characters have an Egyptian look to them.

One of the best and most attractive improvements to the game is the ability to save characters and return to them later on. This allows the accumulation of experience, levels, and completed missions. Each player can select initials and a password, which allows characters to be built, improved upon, and saved for later. One of the reasons this game is such a great money maker is that it becomes easier the more you play, since your character becomes more powerful and can more easily defeat the lower levels of the game.

Saving characters reveals special abilities as each character gains more experience. The four basic characters are the same as the original Gauntlet, warrior, valkyrie, archer, and wizard, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. However, at higher levels, each becomes more powerful and unique. The wizard can become a mage at level 10, and at even higher levels, characters such as the warrior and valkyrie can become a minotaur or tigress. Individual ability points like strength or magic can also be purchased with gold collected during play.

Even without playing for hours to reach these levels, Legends is much more involved that the original Gauntlet because of the many powerups and special attacks available. Unlike the original, where each player could only have one powerup at a time, Legends allows multiple powers and attacks. It is possible to be an invisible, invulnerable mage with five way shot and acid breath.

Special attacks have also been upgraded. Magic can be used to form a longer lasting shield to kill enemies in addition to blasting everyone on the screen. Even more impressive are the turbo attacks, controlled by a power meter that slowly regenerates. Allowing three levels of power, these special attacks are unique to each character, allowing attacks such as the wizard's demon skull or the archer's amusing BFG (a well known acronym to assassin types).

Other humorous elements have also been added to make for interesting play. To play on the common problem of one player stealing the treasure in a chest another player has opened, the voices of the characters now argue when items are stolen. Some of the more interesting powerups are anti-Death power, which lets you steal life points from Death, and the Pojo egg, which lets you become Pojo, the fire-breathing chicken.

There are some problems with the game play of the arcade version. One of these is the difficulty in coordinating all four players at once. The screen will zoom out as players move apart, but there is a limit to this, after which players can be trapped on opposite sides of the screen. While this encourages cooperation, it makes the reality of the game less impressive. Another difficulty is in using the joysticks for the two outer players on the game. The sticks are calibrated such that towards the screen is forward, but it is necessary to stand sideways to play with four people, resulting in more confusing control.

Clearly, however, a lot of people are willing to spend a lot of money on this game, as indicated by the fact that there is often a crowd around the game, both playing and watching while waiting to play. Fortunately for all of our wallets, this game is coming out for Nintendo 64 and Sony Playstation this spring. Sony will only support two player simultaneous play, eliminating one of the best features of the game, but Nintendo will support four player play, the way the game is meant to be. The anticipated release date for Nintendo is May 25. Fortunately for students, this is after finals this year, or many grades would undoubtedly suffer.