Roleplay and dungeons gained much popularity in the 1980s and naturally, arcade games cashed in on the trend. Being one of the first games to accommodate from one to four simultaneous players, Gauntlet featured a sprawling set of mazes through which the characters wandered and slew monsters. The arcade community embraced the game with open arms and filled each machine with a steady supply of quarters.
In the game of Gauntlet, four different characters were available and each brought unique skill sets to the table: Thor the warrior was strong but slow, the elf Questor was faster than a speeding arrow but rather weak, Thyra the Valkyrie had average strength and speed and Merlin the sorcerer was the runt of the litter physically, but possessed extraordinary magic powers. The four adventurers (or one adventurer if you had no friends to play Gauntlet with you) battled ghosts, demons and assorted monsters that only became more numerous after every level. The best strategy was to destroy the ‘monster generators’ randomly sprinkled around the dungeons.
The game featured health level monitors for each player that depleted even if no fighting was taking place. To increase their potency, players grab food strategically placed in the playfield or–in a diabolically clever move–they could pump more quarters into the machine to purchase health for their characters. This feature made Gauntlet a bottomless pit for weekly allowances and probably put the arcade owner’s kids through college (unless they spent their college fund on Gauntlet).
One of the most memorable parts of Gauntlet was the narrator’s voice providing commentary on the action, like “Valkyrie…is about to die!” and “Warrior shot the food!” and let’s not forget, “Elf…needs food badly!”
Gauntlet was a tremendous success when it debuted in 1985 and spawned several sequel games, like Gauntlet II, Gauntlet Legends and Gauntlet Legacy. The new games doubled the number of available characters and added hundreds of new levels to the maze. Today, it can be played on a number of home gaming systems as part of the Midway Arcade Treasures pack, ensuring that newer generations have access to the Gauntlet experience. Now, somebody, please feed the Elf.
If you have fond memories of meeting up with friends at the local arcade for an afternoon of Gauntlet, we’d love to hear your recollections in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this memorable role-playing arcade game from the 80s.