By Sean Harris

Not only did Atari bring the first D&D-esque action game to the arcade scene, they did it with the ability to have three of your best friends tag along in force. What’s more–they also crammed a booming, omnipresent dungeon master voice inside it with a Texas Instruments sound chip to guide you along your quest and mock you with hilarious quips (like the popular “VALKYRIE IS ABOUT TO DIE!”, or the often heard “REMEMBER: DON’T SHOOT FOOD!”).

You heard THE MAN: "Use keys to open doors!"

An addictive four player free-for-all search and destroy, GAUNTLET was a hit the moment it started showing up on game room floors. Depending on which coin slot you drop your quarters or tokens into, you take the role of either a warrior (Thor), valkyrie (Thyra), elf (Questor), or wizard (Merlin). Each comes with their own strengths and weaknesses, naturally. Thor can wade through enemies and take less damage, but he’s slower than molasses and terrible with magic power. Thyra has great hand-to-hand fighting and armor, so she can make quick work running into creatures, but everything else about her is average. Questor zips along like a fairy on speed, but his armor and shot strength are lacking. And Merlin, of course, can wipe out almost an entire screen by launching a magic potion, but he’ll be bringing up the rear and last to pick through any spoils (and woe be the player who gets overrun using him–he goes down really quick in melee combat). All of these attributes are upgradable if you play long enough, found scattered throughout levels within specially marked magic containers. The longer you stay alive, the more you’ll find these power-ups and max out your abilities.

Your goal is simple: find the exit in each dungeon.

You begin with 700 health (per coin), and staying in the game means adding additional quarters or finding food, which comes in the form of little plates of chicken legs and ham, or wine jugs marked XX. Each give you an additional 100 health back, but here’s the catch: your life force dwindles down every second, even if you aren’t moving or being attacked. Atari was no dummy at the design phase, you see, and went through great lengths creatively to depart you of your hard earned money.

And pump in the cash the public did, just to see how far into the mayhem they could go. Each level is a maze-type structure, some big, some small, with the player watching down overhead on the party of adventurers as they traverse corridors and rooms. You can wander in any direction, open doors with collected keys, fire your respective weapon at the hordes of oncoming creatures, or zap everything moving with a potion (provided you have one in your inventory). Your immediate objective, other than staying conscious, is to find the exit leading to the next level. Once all the participating players spin their way down the open black space, the screen cuts to a brief intermission to tell you what stage you are going to appear in next.

You'll have to fry this grievance with magic.

As expected, there is a horde of enemies waiting to kill your character on each one. Ghosts wander aimlessly, attracted to movement, and fly into you to sap precious health (these cannot be fought hand-to-hand). Grunts, a club brandishing sort of brute goblin, surround you in droves trying to get a whack in. More annoying creatures like demons and the extra irritating sorcerers do more damage by shooting projectiles or blinking off the screen and appearing behind you for cheap attacks. Lobbers, little midgets with nifty hats, actually throw things over the walls until you catch up to them. There’s also DEATH–a floating black grim reaper thing who points at you with his finger of doom and stalks relentlessly. You’ll have to take him out with magic, or he’ll stick around to haunt you for over a hundred health.

To even the odds just slightly, there is also an amulet item containing temporary invisibility, though it is not in generous supply and will diminish fairly quickly even when you do find it. You’ll need to plunder all unexplored areas to keep access up to these extremely rare enhancements.

Grunts can be fought hand-to-hand by walking into them.

GAUNTLET’S one downfall is that it has no ending, and a hellish reality awaited the poor fool that emptied his paycheck into finding this out. Most people never even knew this secret until MAME emulation came around, where you could set the DIP switches to infinite energy and quest until your fingers broke upon the keyboard. A definitive goal and climax would have helped to complete the experience, but this oversight had to wait until later in the series to be corrected.

Nonetheless, this was a definite changer for graphics and sound design, and a quantum leap forward for multiplayer gaming.