Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows

Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows

If nothing else, the Gauntlet series deserves credit for giving '80s gamers their first taste of existential angst. Up to four players stepped into the roles of four different character types (elf, warrior, valkyrie, or wizard), hacking, slashing, and magic-potioning their way through a seemingly endless dungeon while being pursued by ghosts, goblins, and occasionally Death itself. But even when Death wasn't onscreen, the specter of mortality hung over the game. No matter how bravely you fought, the game's narrator would inevitably break in with warnings like "Elf is about to die." Sure, quarters would keep the game going a little longer, but everyone runs out of quarters eventually.

On the other hand, winning game formulas can seemingly live forever. In 1998, Atari revived Gauntlet, and for all the 3D graphics and modern bells and whistles, it remained the same game at heart. More sequels followed, most recently Midway's Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows.

This might be one trip back to the well too many. Though Seven Sorrows adds a more sophisticated combat system to the expected arcade-style action and role-playing elements, extensive testing on The A.V. Club gaming couch suggests that simply pressing the same button over and over again yields virtually the same results as skillfully deployed multi-button deathblows. This mindless repetition can make the game virtually unplayable for friendless types without an online connection, though the fun increases exponentially when more players join the game. For some reason, mindless button-mashing and monster-slaying works much better as a group activity.

Beyond the game: A between-levels storyline explains the subtitle's "seven sorrows." Fortunately, it can be skipped.

Worth playing for: Moments when, after saving up magic energy for just the right moment, you let lose with a screen-clearing Mana Blast. Also, surviving the game requires you to eat vast amounts of virtual cheese, ham, and turkey. Delicious!

Frustration sets in when: You realize that, yes, this level will just be a whole lot more monster-slaying, generator-destroying, and key-finding.

Final judgment: Fundamentally unchanged since 1985, the Gauntlet experience remains fun, but the latest incarnation doesn't really take the franchise to the proverbial next level. It's a great way to kill an afternoon with friends, but nothing more.

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