“Warrior needs food … Badly!” With these four words, a quarter munching franchise was born. When Midway launched the classic arcade hit Gauntlet in 1984, they distilled the dungeon crawling essence into a few basic elements: heroes with different abilities and skills crawling through a massive dungeon fighting their way through hordes of monsters and collecting treasure. It was simple, straightforward and immediately addictive. Now, 21 years later, Midway updates their formula for current generation systems with Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows.
Unlike the original arcade game which didn’t actually have a plotline attached to it, Seven Sorrows tells the story of the Warrior, the Elf, The Valkyrie and the Wizard through the eyes of the emperor of the land. These four characters are actually immortals who were the champions of the emperor in a happier time. There’s immediately a twist presented at the start of the game, as the narrator is actually a ghost who tried to strip the four heroes of their mystical energies with the help of his advisors. Of course, the advisors double crossed their leader, killing him and stealing the released power in the process. To undo the sins he’s committed against his former heroes, his spirit directs the party to reclaim their power and destroy the six advisors in the process.
Again, unlike the original title, the four companions have a large number of moves that can be used against the hordes of enemies that appear from the numerous monster generators scattered throughout each level. You have a light and heavy attack, which can be strung together to create a large number of combos. A ranged attack is good for taking out enemies at a distance, and you’ll continually regenerate mana which can be expended in powerful mana blasts. Defeating your opponents helps you gain both experience and gold, which can be used to boost your character’s stats and unlock new attacks.
While the inclusion of a large number of moves, RPG-like elements and a storyline may make the concept behind the updated Gauntlet sound much more dynamic and plot driven, Seven Sorrows falls way short of being a compelling title. First of all, while the manual goes into a ton of detail describing the four characters, but they don’t speak a single line of dialogue or have their own unique plotlines in the game at all. This effectively makes the main characters bystanders in their own story, thereby rendering the plot useless. What’s more, it aids in decreasing the replayability factor because you’ve got the same story regardless of who you’re adventuring as.
Next comes the radical overbalance in your favor. The four heroes are so ridiculously powerful that you can easily clear your way through the levels without even needing to resort to the various combo moves that you’ll purchase. Not only will your fighters be able to clear wide swaths of foes around them, but they’ll also be able to simply hack and slash their way through just about every opponent except the bosses. However, if you choose to purchase new attacks, take it with a grain of salt – you’ll easily be able to find enough gold to buy all of your character’s skills by the halfway point of the game. That might be impressive if the game was much longer than it actually is. I managed to blow through the game in about 5 hours from start to finish. Even worse, whereas the original title provided some variety by providing different strengths and weaknesses for the four fighters, these characters are practically the same, providing no real impetus to test your skills a second, third or fourth time around.
One of the few things that Seven Sorrows does do right is allow gamers to join and leave the game at any point in time. This is somewhat akin to the arcade game, although it provides a save feature and a way to keep your character’s progress. However, the largest reason to even have someone else join the original game was because of the overwhelming size of the mazes and number of monsters you’d face. Unfortunately, Seven Sorrows is an extremely linear title, one that literally features one starting point and one exit for each stage regardless of the dead ends and minor turns on each level.
The visual look of both the PS2 and Xbox titles are similar, although the Xbox is sharper when it comes to character models and environments. Character models are large and detailed, and you’ll find that the game engine manages to feature a lot of enemies and players onscreen at the same time without noticeable slowdown. In fact, you can have about 15 or twenty characters onscreen, each firing projectiles and still have the game run at a solid framerate, which is impressive. While the stability of the framerate is good, the audio is rather forgettable. The game does try to hold onto the classic sound bites of each character calling out that they need food or what their status is, but it’s relatively meaningless when you hear it announced out of step with the onscreen action. For instance, you can be told that you need food after you’ve picked up a turkey that fully heals you.
Although it’s a good idea to revisit the older Gauntlet franchise, this isn’t exactly the way to do it. The plot is inconsequential, the characters are less than one dimensional and the game is radically overbalanced, amongst other issues. If you’re really looking to get your Gauntlet game on, I’d really recommend the Xbox Live Arcade title or the included emulation in the Midway Arcade Treasures: Extended Play PSP disc instead.