For a child of the NES and Master System era like me, it feels like the Gauntlet franchise has been around forever. With the tough-as-nails co-operative arcade beat-em-up coming back into vogue with the rise of indie gaming it was only a matter of time before Gauntlet returned. And return it has with Gauntlet: Slayer Edition.
Gauntlet: Slayer Edition is an upgraded console-based version of the series reboot that launched on PC last year. Developed by Swedish dev Arrowhead Game Studios on the heels of their first big hit, Magicka, this is a style of game that is very clearly up their alley. The old tenets hold true: You can choose to play as one of four character classes – Wizard, Barbarian, Valkyrie (who is like a Paladin) or Elf (an archer/ranger, essentially). Up to four players can take part, either online or locally in couch co-op, and the havoc commences.
When I say havoc, I mean it. The screen fills with enemies almost immediately and they keep on coming. You control your characters via a twin-stick shooter control scheme, directing the with the left stick and pointing their attacks with the right. Face and shoulder buttons allow you to perform specials, AOE and power moves. These enemies are no pushover, even with four players in the mix. You’ll need to co-ordinate your movements and attacks to avoid any unfortunate or poorly timed deaths. In a very real sense, it’s like Diablo crossed with a bullet hell shmup. It does mean picking friends who can a) deal with that kind of an onslaught and b) won’t rage quit on you when things start getting really full on.
Originally, Gauntlet had a bit of a story but it was never something the devs were willing to let get in the way of the anarchy, and the same holds true here. I’m sure there’s a reason these four archetypes are shredding wave after wave of monsters but I couldn’t hear it over the sound of my friends and I having a really good time. There are in-jokes and betrayals, a neat “Greediest Player” award at the end of each level so you know who to blame for hoarding all the gold and loot to themselves.
When you’re not wrecking up various monster lairs throughout the Super Mario World-style connected map, you’ll be hoovering up gold and keys just as quickly as you can. Keys allow you to move into locked off parts of the dungeon and gold allows you to purchase upgrades for your characters. We found the gold drop rate to be a little on the low side given the high prices for some of the upgrades. Obviously the game is designed for multiple playthroughs (and they don’t want it to become too easy too quickly) but if you’re after the sort of co-op game you can throw on when your buddies come round then the last thing you want to be doing is grinding for buffs. One of the Elf upgrades was 75,000 gold. Without spending any gold at all, it wasn’t until we were halfway through the campaign that we could afford that upgrade. A drop in the upgrade pricing or a boost to the gold drop rate would solve this problem entirely.
The level and visual design on display here are top shelf. Characters and monsters look just cartoony enough to let you find the funny in the wholesale slaughter happening onscreen, there are some really lovely environmental effects including some of the nicest looking lava I’ve seen in a game. Levels aren’t over complicated to move through, which is nice because with four people things can get a little crowded and it’s great to see the devs accommodate for that.
In terms of upgrades from the previous edition, Slayer Edition brings a wealth of new boss battles sprinkles throughout the campaign, the aforementioned Mario-inspired map which is much nicer to look at than the original hub, new game modes like Endless which is exactly what it says on the tin but earns you crazy amounts of gold if you’re game for it, daily Colosseum challenges that will net you even more gold and new clothes and outfits for your characters. Combat has been spiced up with the addition of character-specific moves that will change or evolve with the purchase of a new weapon. Each of the main characters has been refined and play pretty well – all except the Wizard who remains by far the hardest, most unwieldy of the lot. There’s a new Necromancer character as well but he’s only available as DLC and we found the $7.99 Warner Bros. were asking for him a bit steep considering the full game only runs you $20.
If you have access to four controllers and a few friends who are up for a challenge then it’s almost impossible not to recommend this. The combat has been refined, online is steady and lag free, co-op is a blast and the whole game will only run you $20 on PSN. Gauntlet: Slayer Edition has its problems but throw a few friends in there and it’s a party.
Review Score: 7.0 out of 10
Highlights: Refined combat; couch co-op, cool upgrades
Lowlights: Upgrades SO expensive!; Campaign rather repetitive
Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios
Publisher: WB Games
Released: August 11, 2015
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Reviewed on PlayStation 4