Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: December 12, 2005
Every now and then, we see media stories about gaming where a huffy parent or looming authority figure attempts to tell us that games don't teach children anything. I consider this a great big lie, myself. Sure, most games won't teach you anything about geometry, history, or even philosophy. (Check Gunbound, any given detailed historical strategy/resource-management game, and Planescape: Torment for those.) However, games can teach you some important lessons about life just as well as any other experience.
Take, just for a totally random example, Gauntlet . By this, I mean of course the arcade original and not the remake this is supposedly a review of. (I'm getting there, trust me.) Gauntlet taught us all a lot. Don't waste your food, you'll need it later. Being specialized is all right in some situations, but you'll need to do a little of everything eventually. If you hang around long enough, all kinds of doors will open for you. You should always know where the exit is in case of emergencies. Also, occasionally hordes of ghosts will appear and kill you without warning.
Perhaps the most important lesson one can learn from Gauntlet, though, is that having reliable friends is really important. You need people around who you can trust, because if you're pinned down with nowhere to turn and no place to go, you want someone who'll shove through the crowds to back you up, not someone who'll be off trying to grab everything they can get for themselves while you take a beating.
So why do I bring this up, anyway?
I mention these things because Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows may have a few changes in game design from the original Gauntlet, but at its heart, it's still the same type of game. As much as it pains me, some games are simply made to be played multiplayer, and the ultimate message of the Gauntlet series has always been, "Get some friends, you weirdo." Is it fun alone? Yes. Is it as much fun as with multiple players? Absolutely not, unless you're the most antisocial of the antisocialites.
There's been a bit of hubbub in preview-land about this edition of Gauntlet packing a storyline. While it is true that there are some very nice cut scenes featuring Mark of Kri-style hand drawn artwork being sketched in while you watch, the narration drones on absently about plot points that happened long before you actually play the game. It's more a fictional history lesson than a pressing plotline. In addition, while the manual gives deep backstory for each character, including motivations and interests (and some of the least pronounceable names to escape from being written down by Tolkien), it doesn't matter because the four characters are all basically the same speed/power/magic blend you might remember from other games.
Okay. Forget the storyline, how about the gameplay?
The way Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows plays is quite likely to remind one heavily of the Dynasty Warriors series crossed with, say, Smash TV. You've got a number of available moves, from your hack and slash keys (and that's really what they're called) to your launchers and special attacks. Use these to chop, hack, slash, and generally pummel the unholy snot out of wave after wave of enemies. They'll usually go flying off the sides of the screen in a most amusing fashion. Isn't that great? Do it again. Keep doing it. Forever. Sometimes there are "puzzles" in your way, such as beating violently on the supports of a bridge to make it collapse. For the most part, you won't come across anything that can't be solved with brute force or more food. (Oh yes, the booming-voiced announcer does make a return. Red Warrior still needs food badly.)
That's not a bad thing, you know. The action is fast-paced and kinetic, and at the end of each set of levels, you'll face off against a massive towering boss creature of ultimate doom. These babies are the pinnacle of cheaper-than-free boss design; they'll often hit you for more than half of your life bar just because you happened to show up on the same continent as they're on. Actually beating them usually takes two or three of your plentiful extra lives and will require you to exploit the obvious gimmicks they bring along with them. Then it's off to the next level to do it all over again.
Each level is disjointed from the last; you'll find almost no continuity as you jump from forest to docks to castle to mountains. You'll usually be fighting the same group of monsters as well, with only a slight variation here and there for local changes. It's kind of a letdown as well that most of the enemies you fight are humans instead of anything more creative. What a shame. At least the graphics are pretty.
There's a lot of call to say, "What a shame" here, as a matter of fact. The Elf and Valkyrie are almost the same, aside from specials and shot strength. The Warrior is clearly more mighty and beefy than any of the others, and the Wizard is undoubtedly your giant magic bomb. If you're the kind of person who doesn't like the thought of charging through levels plowing over anything that moves or even looks like it might one day move, you'll be cheesed off at this game. Additionally, some of the levels violate the cardinal rule of Gauntlet, which I have just made up: Thou Shalt Not Have Enemies Spawn In From No Visible Location. Monsters will come running in from off-screen or from a crack in the fence around an area with no way to destroy their generator. This feels massively wrong, given the kind of game this is.
I'm going to go ahead and be frank with you folk here. Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows feels kind of like a well-produced, big-budget title that forgot to actually include much fun. Don't get me wrong – it's a strong effort, but too much of this game feels underdone. There's hardly any call to use most of your chosen character's special attacks, which is bothersome because you'll have all of them unlocked before you're halfway through the game. After that point, I'm not sure why you'd bother playing. Gobs of backstory are brought up and then tossed aside, the audio is droning generic high fantasy music and grunts, and for the most part, there just isn't a reason to do more than play this game through once or twice.
Well ... unless you're playing multiplayer. Playing this game online with people you actually like is a whole different story and really proves that this was meant to be a social experience. If you're looking for a Gauntlet game in the tradition of the original, you can find Midway Arcade Treasures for cheap. If you want one more like the recent N64 releases or Dark Legacy, this is the only game in town. Most people, however, just don't need to buy this game. The fun runs out pretty quickly, and then you're just left mashing buttons. What a shame.
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