Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Top 30 Hardest NES Games Ever. Day 26

Gauntlet

A game so hard that even though they give you codes it is still in the Top 5 Hardest NES games of all time.  That's right, Gauntlet is a son of a bitch.

Perhaps the game that defines the genre "dungeon crawler," Gauntlet is a brutal mish-mash of action adventure, puzzle solving, and role playing that pits you as a legendary character (your choice of 4) who must navigate a hellish dungeon in order to find the mystical orb stolen by the Evil One.  This is a game that goes beyond being a classic to being one that is a cornerstone of all classic gaming.  Without Gauntlet you wouldn't have half of the MMORPG's (that is what they are called, right?) that wither the dating potential of millions of awkward  male twenty and thirtysomethings these days.  Everyone knows Gauntlet and everyone has played Gauntlet, at least a little bit, if they are at all familiar with games made before 1995.  But how many people do you know that have actually finished Gauntlet?  Furthermore, how many have finished it solo?  Exactly, and do you know why?  Because the game is hard. (you do realize why we are here right?  Top 30 Hardest NES games...?)


The difficulty in Gauntlet is a beast of many faces.  The straightforward action is hard enough.  There is a never-ending supply of bad guys who pour forth from monster generators with a single-minded goal of draining your life force.  There are tons of traps to stumble into and even Death himself lies in wait for you to set him free that he may drain your very existence with his deadly touch.  Gauntlet would be difficult enough on the back of that alone.  But wait, there's more!  Level design is another aspect of the game that can drive you to madness.  Each level is a maze, some with more than one exit, but all designed to waste time and get you so turned around that you aren't even sure where you are when you are looking right at the screen.  Some levels have invisible walls (these are pure evil), others have strategically placed enemies or traps that force you to either think around the bad guys or rush right in head first and hope for the best, still others have locked barriers that can only be undone with a key hidden somewhere in the level.  Many have false exits or teleporters that keep you guessing.  So while you are fending off the galloping hordes, you will also have to do some on the fly puzzle solving.  But wait, there's more!  Remember when I said levels were designed to waste your time?  Well in Gauntlet, time is not something you have a lot of.  Your hit points are constantly counting down from the moment you set foot in the dungeon.  Run out of hit points and GAME OVER.  You can keep yourself healthy by finding food and water, but you cannot stop that timer.  So each level becomes a mad dash to the finish to preserve as much life as possible for the next level.

But wait, there's more!

All of the things above describe what is going on within the levels, but you also have to mindful of your main goal, to locate the orb.  Well, guess what Bingo, that orb is sealed away behind a locked door that only a certain combination can unlock.  To figure out the combination, you must locate "clue rooms" in the dungeon and piece together the correct combination.  The combination is different for each player so there will be no cheating. (well at least not for purists, you can find the codes on this blasted internet these days, if you are a sissy).  And don't think you'll automatically find yourself in each of the clue rooms, either.  Many rooms have multiple exits and it is easy to clear a whole level and not go through the clue room.  So plan to play each level over and over, and many of the rooms over and over, until you figure out the right exits to take that ensure you find all of the clues. You do NOT want to get to the final level with half of the combination.

So while you are fighting off a million minions, racing against the clock, you are also trying not only to find the exit, but to find the right exit that will take you to the right rooms so that you can beat the game.  Easy right?  Hardly.  The last two levels are absolutely evil.  By the time you reach them, your HP is already low, the enemies are tougher and tougher and the puzzles are down right mean.  Level 4 is the water level and most of the walls are invisible.  You must feel your way around the room to find the exit.  And level five, Volcana, well, let's not talk about level 5, let's just say you'll be seeing a lot of Death.
Your only saving grace is the generous code system that allows you to start over after any treasure room for which you have a code.  You can see the code for your progress on the pause screen.  But just because you have the code doesn't mean the game is easily beaten.  You'll start the room over exactly how you entered it, so whatever conditions you were operating under before, you'll be operating under again.  The password just saves you the work of playing previous levels ad infinitum.  Although that is not always a bad thing either. If you get better at the early levels you can put yourself in a better position on the later ones and therefore increase your chances of winning the game.
The dude's name is freakin' Caesar! Look at that cat!

Gauntlet is a complex game that offers challenges on many levels.  The greatest difficulty stems from the need to find exactly the right exits to locate the clue rooms.  This means you'll be playing a lot of rooms over and over until you find the correct path.  Even then, once learned, getting the job done, solving the individual puzzles and beating back the relentless monsters, in the time allotted, is nearly impossible.  I have no doubt there are Gauntlet experts out there who can zip through the game in their sleep, but for the average gamer, this bad boy is Everest.

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