Before I knew what Diablo II was, I knew about Gauntlet Legends. This is the game that basically introduced me to the hack’n slash genre – something that would wind up consuming a large amount of my time in the form of countless Andy, Meph, and Baal runs in D2. Countless hours of grinding on my Hammerdin were prefaced by slaughtering waves of enemies in Gauntlet. Besides, playing this game with 3 other people is about as much fun as the N64 could get when you were in high school (assuming you had all tired of remote mines on Archives already).
Gauntlet Legends was ported from the arcades to a number of home consoles, including the N64. It brings solid, 4-player hack n slash action with a very, very light touch of RPG features. You control one of four classes, and quest across multiple realms to recover 13 runestones and 4 shards of a magical window to allow you to destroy the evil demon Skorne – pretty standard fantasy stuff here. There are slight differences between the arcade edition and the home edition, but in general they play out the same way and draw deeply on roots going back to the original Gauntlet.
The 4 classes available mirror your typical RPG class fare. The warrior is a heavy melee class, who’s magic is as effective as a stiff breeze on the enemy. The Valkyrie is a well balanced character, but only excels in armor. The Wizard has powerful ranged abilities and magic skills (as well as arguably some of the best turbo moves, especially his level 2 turbo – more on those later), but is utterly useless in melee range. Finally, the Archer is a swift character with devastating ranged attacks, but again, very weak when things get physical. Valkyrie is probably the best all around class – the Warrior is too hampered by his poor magic ability, and the Wizard and Archer require heavy kiting to survive. Each character has an alternate skin secret character (Minotaur, Falconess, Jackal, and Tigress respectively) that can each be unlocked through a hidden secret stage in the game. These alternate skins allow you to freely swap between characters without starting a new game; a word of caution though, the first time you select a secret character, you will forever lose your original, non-secret character. For instance, I started with a Valkyrie, but switched to Minotaur in the Castle stage to try out the Warrior playstyle. This caused me to lose access to the Valkyrie until I unlocked the Falconress. Doh!
Gameplay is mostly based on you slaughtering waves of mindless hordes, either by walking up and smacking them in the face, or by hurling projectiles and/or magic at them. Potions are useful for clearing huge groups, and can be conveniently hurled over barriers to clear groups of enemies you can’t reach on foot. Each character also has “turbo” attacks, represented by a meter the slowly fills up through three different levels, each reflecting a different power and type of attack. Level 1 attacks are merely a larger, more powerful version of the standard ranged attack each character has. Level 2 attacks are for clearing enemies from all around the player (AoE), and each class has a different flavor that all vary in effectiveness. For instance, the Valkyrie’s sword spin pales in comparison to the Wizard’s rock shower, that practically clears the entire screen. Level 3 attacks are powerful attacks that are very wide and fly forward from the character, obliterating all enemies in its path and piercing through walls.
The game takes place across 4 main realms, each sub-divided into multiple stages, and capped with a boss fight. The game is reasonably non-linear, in that you have freedom to play through the different realms in whatever order you want, as soon as you unlock them. Monster levels, however, do somewhat limit your ability to go too far out of sequence, and you will find it significantly easier to save the boss fights until the end of the game. The game is not overly difficult, but you might find times where you feel a little underpowered – however nothing that can’t be solved by a little experience grinding on an earlier level.
Gameplay: Gameplay is more or less self explanatory. You kill things. Lots and lots of things. Just like just about every other Gauntlet game ever. You either dig this kind of game or not. Co-op makes this one a blast.
Graphics: The graphics are reasonable for an N64 game, although they are certainly scaled down from the arcade cabinet graphics. Lots of enemies on the screen at the same time mean the polygon count has to be kept low, but they do a decent job of highlighting different enemy types. Environmental detail is pretty low in general, but compared to other N64 games, is par for the course. Everything seems a little bit fuzzy compared to some N64 games, but there is a lot of things going on and lots of different textures flying around. This game is the explicit reason I feel strongly about using a capture device to get actual screenshots. N64 emulators make things look artificially clean.
Sounds: “I like Food!” Jesus, some of the sound bites get overused in this game, and the sound effects for hitting monsters (a light piff) get tiring. However sound does play an integral part of this game. Due to the limited view the isometric perspective grants you, it is important to throw projectiles in front of you to clear out enemies and generators that are offscreen. The different cues provided to you by the sounds allow you to figure out when you have destroyed a generator. The music is fine, but nothing memorable.
Nostalgia: I never owned this game growing up (only finally bought the cart over the holidays), but of course have solid high school memories of it. I actually am pretty positive this is how I spent my Y2K evening, because I’m pretty sure a friend had to leave before midnight because his parents were afraid of mass-riots (hah!). I also played the arcade cabinet a number of times, but never really played this game to death. This was a great opportunity to finally play clear through the game, and it mostly lived up to my expectations; although, like all N64 games I haven’t played in ages, the graphics are nowhere near what I remember mentally.
Worth Playing? I imagine this is a pretty polarizing game, but if you want a good hack n slash that you can just put your brain on auto-pilot for, this is a winner. It also is a nice, 4-player cooperative affair, which is something that is not tremendously plentiful on the N64. I will note though, that in a quest to get screenshots easily, before I tracked down a working capture device for an N64, I tried playing this on an emulator. However, most available ROMs for this game seem to all suffer from extreme graphical issues and require a lot of tweaking to get anywhere near functional. It is probably worth it to just fork out the cash for the cart itself.
Buy it on Amazon: Gauntlet Legends for N64 (Disclaimer: affiliate link)