: Gauntlet 4
: Atari Games Corporation
This title surprised me. First, I had written it off the list for no other reason than it was Gauntlet. How could that series have enough RPG elements to include? Especially as we move right into cutting a game like Landstalker. While having a deeper story, and a richer world, it just doesn't offer the same kind of character customization.
In Gauntlet 4's quest mode, the story begins with the appearance of adventures seeking a mysterious treasure within an ancient castle guarded by four towers. Each tower holds the key to opening a seal on the castle doors. Take on the role of warrior, valkyrie, wizard, or elf, solo or with up to three friends, and discover the treasure within.
The key here is the quest mode, which adds experience points and stat increases. A quick check of the scale gives the game a 12 due to meeting all (6) character advancement points, stats have a meaningful impact on combat, item management, a story at the forefront, an open world that remains open, and some small puzzles to solve (mostly mazes). I'll compare that to Landstalker next post, but as a spoiler, the lack of experience and multiple characters drops it below the threshold immediately. So we see essentially a basic dungeon crawler come up over a wonderfully designed world filled with NPCs and lore. Maybe my scale is broken. In any case, I've gone over the numbers enough for now.
|This is the fire tower, which has damage tiles|
Each character has a ranged attack, melee attack, and magic attack (requires potions). The power of each attack is determined by a particular power stat. Shot speed, movement rate, and defense make up the rest of character stats. These stats, and HP, are raised by spending experience points. The amount required increases with each stat raised. Stats are also augmented by equipment purchased from vendors throughout the towers or in the central hub at the beginning of the game.
|It's also possible to lower stats, shown above I drop my shot speed to the minimum |
The goal of each tower is to either reach the top of fire and air, and the bottom of earth and water. A dragon awaits in each guarding the power to break the seal. To navigate there requires finding the proper path of up and down stairs as well as trap tiles that change the layout of the floor. Finding all four trap tiles clears the floor (removing enemies and treasure). There are keys to open doors, and treasure to collect for added gold. Gold is needed to purchase equipment and items from the vendors.
|Buying each level of equipment is inefficient as there's no way to sell old equipment|
As with other Gauntlet games, health starts at 2000 and is constantly drained. This is also the max HP, and can be raised by 100 point increments for an experience point cost. Luckily I chose the fire tower first, and found a heal ring early on. Only one item can be readied at any time, and the heal ring prevents this drain. The float ring allows the player to walk over stairs and teleporters, handy to reach some otherwise inaccessible treasure. There's a mirror ring that gives reflective shot, and a fight ring that allows a character to melee with death and mimics.
|Each tower has special tiles, fire=damage, water=slip, earth=slow, and air=stream which move the character randomly; the castle has confuse tiles that shift the direction of the d-pad|
In addition to the special tiles of each tower, there are tiles in every location that prevent shots or magic. These add an additional layer to puzzles. In one instance I needed to slow my shot speed to destroy a destructible wall located across a couple screen lengths worth of no shot tiles. Death is only vulnerable to magic, but how do you handle him surrounded by anti-magic tiles.
|In the earth tower, some of the downstairs worked as pits with no corresponding up stairs|
The enemies are well varied with ghosts immune to melee, dragons weaker at melee range, and wizards that phase in and out. Normal enemies don't really pose much of a challenge. A couple of potions can kill nearly all enemies on a single screen, and those along with food respawn when transitioning to floors. Add in the heal drink to restore health to max, and the warp wing that takes the character back to the central hub, you can imagine the majority of deaths I had were from the dragon bosses where these options are disabled.
|There was that one time I ran through an army of ghosts surrounded by deaths--dying to regular enemies removes the bonus stat potions found behind each dragon, but they're easy enough to collect again|
The castle is like the towers, except it begins on the 5th floor, and must be navigated to the basement before heading to the top. Atop is another dragon, but this one draws power from four elemental orbs that must be sealed before it takes damage. This has to be done while dodging all the normal shots the dragon has, and only lowers his defense for a short period of time before the orbs regain their light. It took a couple attempts to get it right.
|Here's the password for right before the final dragon, note the name of the character must match as well|
Beyond the dragon was a treasure beyond imagination. I arrived on the roof where a disembodied voice asked if I was ready to enter the land of eternal youth. I then had a choice to enter or not. I chose to enter. I wanted my treasure. You decide if I made the right choice. That same voice proclaimed that finally an heir was found, and the spell was broken.
|Suddenly I was in control of a dragon breathing hot death on a character that looked like the wizard|
I had turned into a dragon. The other option would be to return to town without the treasure, and always wondering what could have been up there. I definitely wasn't expecting an ending like this, but even in the best of RPGs so far, which I have to say this didn't quite scratch that itch, we haven't seen an evil ending like this. I'm glad I chose it first. The other sounded rather disappointing.
|All adventures who succeed become another dragon, killing the last successful adventurer|
- Combat definitely has some challenging aspects, but on a fight to fight basis it's pretty weak. There aren't many options, especially ones that differ between the characters. If for some reason the player dedicated his time to melee combat, it does give more experience after all, then that character would be woefully unprepared for the dragons. There are a good variety of enemies, but not enough to keep things interesting past the first tower.
|Only dragons, but where do they all come from?|
- There are a lot of ways to customize the characters, and each seems to be viable, although some are definitely better than others. Appearance is fixed, even the color of each character (in this mode). Controls are responsive, although max speed can get a bit unwieldy.
|The same credits are given during the demo mode|
- With only a main quest to speak of, the game does well to mix in puzzle elements beyond just mazes. There aren't any side quests, and really there's only a single solution to the game, even if the towers are open to any order.
|Each tower gives a symbol on the character, showing which ones are completed|
- The story really doesn't matter. It's Gauntlet, go through the dungeon and hack everything to death. The only decision in the game comes at the end, but it carries a lot of weight. The traders in the hub congratulate and give advice throughout, while a voice welcomes the adventurer to continue on through to the end. It's unclear whose voice that was in the end, but I would guess the final dragon.
|There are more people in the special thanks section than all others put together|
- There's not a lot to collect, but if you're looking to buy all items, then that won't happen without a lot of grinding. With no lack of space, there's no reason to worry about where to put the next item. It's easy to tell the strength of each piece of equipment
|Seriously, it goes on for a while|
- I was a little disappointed that a lot of standard Gauntlet sound effects were missing. Green elf never needed food badly. The music is top notch though, with a lot of unique tracks. With a limited area, it still kept my interest in exploring every corner to clear out each floor.
|A great example of wonderful Genesis music|
Overall a nice distraction after Ultima V before we get into another lengthy RPG. Gauntlet IV isn't a typical RPG, but it's an early example of just enough trappings in an attempt to woo RPG fans to check out the game. I've found that I'm definitely more of a fan of turn-based combat. A sprinkling of action-RPGs do well to stave off burning out from this project.
|What other game could I be a dragon?|
Next up, Inindo: Way of the Ninja. A game that I missed on the SNES, and probably for good reason. It's a port from an early Japanese computer game, which gives it a very dated look on the SNES. It seems interesting, but I can see it dragging on for far too long. First though, I'll be cutting Landstalker from the pack of RPGs. Go ahead, question my reasoning. It could very well be wrong.