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Odds are most gamers are at least vaguely familiar with the original Gauntlet, a game that first hit arcades in 1985 before seeing release on numerous gaming systems, including the Atari 2600, the NES and the Sega Master System. It was a fairly simple and easy to play game, as one-to-four players explored a seemingly endless dungeon, battling hordes of enemies, destroying the lairs that generated them, and gathering treasure, all while dodging the life-draining Death creature. The formula was an instant hit with gamers, and a handful of sequels of varying quality would follow.
One such sequel was Gauntlet: Dark Legacy, which was released first in arcades and then, in 2002, hit the Sony PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube and Microsoft Xbox. The game was a mix of old and new, combining classic Gauntlet style hack-and-slash gameplay and exploration with a new level-up system, special attacks, and an inventory of items that could be used to aid players as they explored various lands, including a fiery mountain, an ice world and even an airship level.
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The ultimate quest was to gather the hidden Runestone items from different realms and defeat the villainous demon Skorne and the dark wizard who had summoned him, Garm. The game clearly didn’t win any awards for its originality, nor for its writing, for that matter. The story serves merely as a means to an end, telling the player why his/her character is doing all of this without bogging the whole thing down in excessive narrative.
The real meat-and-potatoes of Dark Legacy is the gameplay, especially when playing multiplayer (the game supports up two four at a time). Dark Legacy gets an unfair rap for being a button-mashing fest, and while it is true that players will need to use the standard attack quite often, there are a number of different options available. Fire-breath and the thunder hammer are just two of the power-ups players will come across during the game, and each character has two special charge attacks that can clear out mass quantities of villains all at once. Add to the mix RPG elements such as leveling up, a good number of secret characters to unlock, and the various two-character combo attacks, and the result is a title with more depth than it gets credit for.
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Sadly, Gauntlet: Dark Legacy received, on the whole, mediocre to poor reviews from gaming critics. In truth, it’s easy to see why. If one were to go by the standard game-reviewer’s handbook, this really isn’t what one could call a “good” game. The graphics are, simply put, ugly as sin. The environments are drab, the characters and enemies are drawn so poorly that it can sometimes be hard to tell them apart, and even paths can be obscured to the drab visuals. Sound quality isn’t much better, as the decent voice work is too sparse and the music and sound effects are pretty much forgettable.
However, this is definitely a case where the finished product is more than the sum of its parts. Gauntlet: Dark Legacy may not be a technically sound game, but it is a fun one, especially in multiplayer. Teaming up with two or three friends and taking down one of the enormous stage bosses is a truly epic experience. The combat, power-ups, special attacks and RPG elements definitely add welcome depth to the Gauntlet formula, while still allowing Dark Legacy to maintain the series’ trademark pick-up-and-play charm. Dark Legacy is a forgotten gem in every sense of the word (in addition to being out of print, publisher Midway has removed nearly all mention of the game from their website). Rent it if at all possible; otherwise, buy it used.
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Gauntlet: Dark Legacy (Multi)
- ESRB Rating: T for Teen
- Publisher: Midway Games
- Official Website: http://www.midway.com/us/mpr_1116.html (Midway Games Press Release)
- Rating: 75/100 (Buy It Used)
Recommended if You Like: the original Gauntlet, the Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance or Champions of Norrath games, co-op action/RPGs.