Best Games - Gauntlet
Arcade games from the early 80’s are either so simple that the rules of play are apparent just by looking at the screen, or they are so abstract that it’s a puzzle just to decipher the controls. Gauntlet is a little of column A and a little of column B.
If you were handed a screenshot of Gauntlet you would have no trouble figuring out the moment to moment gameplay. You guide one of 4 fantasy trope characters through a maze of monsters and treasure. It seems pretty straight forward. If you play it, you would quickly find that it’s not so simple.
Like Dungeons & Dragons that influences it there are a lot of systems at play in Gauntlet. Your health is constantly decreasing but there is food available to boost you back up. Some enemies must be shot with your ranged weapon and some can be crashed into to defeat them hand to hand. Magic potions are room clearing super weapons but you might want to save them up to deal with the grim reaper. Combine these systems with the blistering pace of action and it would be very easy to miss most of them. It’s a game that you could very easily spend many quarters on and never understand what the traps do, or why that food just disappeared.
Gauntlet might be one of the first games to include an in game tutorial system in the form of the ever present announcer. Very few games before Gauntlet included digitized speech. It was just too expensive and there wasn’t a compelling reason outside of novelty to add it. In Gauntlet it makes sense to quickly pause the action and deliver some information. When you hear that “Elf needs food… badly!” you won’t forget or ignore it. When the music chimes in followed by the instruction “Don’t shoot food” you will pay a little more attention to your aim. When you hear “Valkyrie is about to die” you will know that it is less important to clear every monster from a level, and more important that you make it to the next exit.
Gauntlet teaches you how to play it while you are playing. It nudges you to improve.
Of course Gauntlet also originated and perfected the microtransaction with the ability to add more health just by paying a quarter for it. It was pay to win before that was ever a thing. But let’s not let it’s sins overshadow it’s achievements.
Gauntlet is a good game, but it teaches you how to enjoy it. That makes it one of the Best Games.