Retrospective: Gauntlet

How this dungeon-crawling arcade classic looted an elusive Golden Joystick Award...

Stick four characters in a maze; fill it with nasties and sprinkle in some goodies. What do you get? Gaming's first fully-fledged co-op dungeon crawler, that's what.

Way back in 1985 Atari blitzed the arcade with a super-wide cabinet gaming fit for four players (or two very large ones). Grabbing kids by the cojones, Gauntlet told a tale of four heroes, fighting for survival within a torrent of bad-times; ever searching for that elusive 'exit' sign that signaled stage-end. No such luck - an unlimited supply of floors equals a quantum-stuffing supply of rage/pocket money.

Of course, some wiley gamers managed to stiff the system and cheat their way to victory, in essence playing 'forever'. Only until Atari went bonkers and release a patch to make the gamer loads harder. Lesson learned; you must play by the rules or Atari will find you. And patch you.


Gauntlet offered an array of gameplay-firsts for 80's folk, pioneering the maze-like dungeon layout that hid gold and ghouls galore. Co-op played a huge role, with players sharing food and goals, keeping each other alive. It's classic vs. classic - Wizard, Warrior, Valkyrie and Elf worked together to fight Goblin, Grunt, Demon and... 'Lobber'. Better watch out, cos this guy... er, lobs things.

A wide range of pick-ups featured; they changed your characters shot speed, power, range and health. Don't forget the functional keys and token high-score items, always ready to invite the player back for more. Power-ing up is vital when the screen fills with enemies - constantly spawning until their 'nest' is destroyed, ebbing the constant flow of foes.


Another (slightly ridiculous) first for Gauntlet was that the entire experience was narrated by a mechanical man-voice, utilising the tongue rollingly titled 'Texas Instruments TMS5220C speech chip'. Not only was this aspect hilarious/helpful, it also spawned a classic in its own right: "RED WIZARD NEEDS FOOD BADLY". Sound familiar?

We remember these glorious days, with Gauntlet and co. showcasing the first steps of the dungeon-crawling genre. Influencing far and wide, games like Baldur's Gate and Dark Souls all borrowed heavily from this theme.


While Gauntlet was just part of the dungeon-fuelled machine (whose forgetting Wizardry and Dark Chambers?), it's definitely a larger, shinier... cog. Some may say golden... in fact we did, back in '86. Scooping the Game of the Year award, Gauntlet secured its legacy... while also ensuring its impact on the future.

Of course with popularity come inevitable sequels, which found their way to Commodore 64, NES and even a Dreamcast version. But today we're paying tribute to Numero Uno - the arcade classic.

So what have we learned? Pull on the roots of any RPG worth its salt; chances are you'll find a hungry red wizard. So: "don't shoot food. Wizard needs food, badly." (Angry Mechanical Narrator, 1985: Gauntlet)

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