Insert Disk collects Gauntlet 2 for the Commodore Amiga and NES
Today’s retro game review is Gauntlet 2 for the Commodore Amiga and NES. This retro gaming classic is the focus of part 2 of the 10 part Insert-Disk Gauntlet Mini Series Where we will take a look back at Gauntlet, Gauntlet The Deeper Dungeons, Gauntlet 2, Gauntlet: The Third Encounter, Gauntlet 3, Gauntlet 4, Gauntlet Legends, Gauntlet: Dark Legacy, Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows, Gauntlet: Slayer Edition as well as a bonus look at the Gauntlet origin story in Dandy and Dark Chambers.
Welcome to the Gauntlet retrospective part 2 of 10.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. It’s part 2 of this Gauntlet Mini series. Welcome to the Gauntlet! In the last episode we took a look back at the game that started it all, Gauntlet. Arriving on various microcomputers and 8-bit systems of the day. If you missed it I highly recommend watching part 1 before continuing on the quest today.
Today we’re taking a look at the next game in the Classic era, Gauntlet 2.
By 1986 Gauntlet fever was still going strong. Gamers couldn’t get enough of that dungeon crawling action. However, 8-bit was so 1985. It was 1986 now and newer hardware such as the Commodore Amiga had found its way in to our homes. Atari was poised to follow up to one of their all-time greats. What had been a game that had achieved a monster success was to become a series that would become a legendary success. Gamers ran out to the shops on launch day and had Gauntlet 2 on pre-order. With the newer hardware and a promise of a huge sequel we ever so slowly and quietly sat in front of our computers to see what all the fuss was about.
Gamers hadn’t even passed the intro screen and yet we already knew that this was a moment. A moment in gaming history that many of us share to this day. The music now one of gaming’s most recognisable tunes. The graphics, so colourful and the announcer clearer than ever. This new Gauntlet really struck a chord with gamers. It was everything we loved about the original yet is was more refined, more detailed and more fiendish than ever. In particular I find the sound design of Gauntlet 2 very haunting and memorable. The whir as you exit a level. The sound of an unlocked door. Shooting the food. The terror of the sound of death sucking your life force. and of course the sound when you pick up a key.
Just as music or smell can take you back to a place in time it’s the sound effects in Gauntlet 2 that personally take me back to the 80’s and my first experiences with gaming. With full 8 directional movement, scrolling, invisible walls, magic walls and new pickups Gauntlet 2 expanded the series in to new territory. It was simply great fun to play and hours of value as you and 3 friends tried to beat the Gauntlet.
There are many editions of the game available. Most will be in small plastic cases. However, there are some decent variants to chase down for the collector. Of course there were a multitude of home conversions of the game. I’d like to show you two major releases here. The NES edition and the Commodore Amiga version. Starting with the NES version we see some really decent artwork that builds on the first NES release. Of course the packaging also displays screenshots of the game within and the box contains those all important manuals and rather slick cartridge. The front of the box though gives us the most exciting features though. 4 player action. Yes, that’s right, a true 4 player game on the NES with the use of the multi-tap port. What a time to be alive if you were a NES owner. How about this though. Remember in part one we covered how Tengen was created as a subsidiary of the Atari Games division to enable them to release on home consoles. Well, Tengen is now nowhere to be seen. In fact Mindscape had now been given the publishing rights by Atari. Perhaps to Nintendo fans disappointment in the last episode I suggested how US Gold’s conversion of the original game to the Sega Master System was an overall better offering in terms of presentation and game play whilst the Tengen published NES version was somewhat lacking. Somewhat of an embarrassment to Atari who held the licencing for the game and trusted Tengen as its subsidiary to deliver. For Gauntlet 2 though the tables were flipped. The Sega Master System never received an official release of Gauntlet 2 whilst the NES edition was released to great success. It’s fair to say that this time round Gauntlet 2 looks really great running on the NES and proved that it wasn’t hardware restrictions that limited the NES it was the development. Personally I think Mindscapes Gauntlet 2 looks great on the NES. Some good detail in the sprites and even the sound effects have been given a bit of care and attention to emulate the feel of the arcade. There’s now smooth scrolling and the colour pallet although not arcade perfect does justice to the system.
Side by side there’s a cohesive feeling to the artwork despite the swap in publisher. This feels like a series despite the earlier licencing issues. Side by side the graphics and game play are noticeably fresher in this sequel and even as an ardent Sega fan I can fully recommend you picking this one up. Where things go a bit awry is in some of the detail. For the longest time the four colours of the heroes have played such as key element of the game. Having a blue wizard, warrior and Valkyrie on the title screen is just unforgivable. However, speech is back! Yes, the narrator will introduce your character and comment during game play. For NES owners this must have felt very satisfying to know that such important Gauntlet elements were now back in the game.
For microcomputer owners there was a lot to smile about too. The Spectrum 128k edition of the game is surprisingly good, featuring the main protagonist of the game, the dragon. The internal instruction sheets are spot on when it comes to functionality and branding. And dare I say that the Spectrum edition also plays reasonably competently as well. It’s now very cheap to pick up so I’d definitely recommend this edition to those of you out there that want a real retro feeling experience.
As mentioned the Sega Master System did not see a release of Gauntlet 2. Instead US Gold worked on a number of other ports but in particular the edition of the game that would become known to many including myself as the definitive Gauntlet 2 home release. Enter the next gen of consoles in the way of Commodore’s Amiga. The great grey box of unrelenting power. Gauntlet was about to go in to over drive with the help Commodore. The speech, excellent. The levels, huge. The gameplay, tight. This simply was the full arcade experience in your own home and hands down one of US Gold’s crowning glories.
Gauntlet 2 on the Amiga was actually the first Gauntlet game I had played outside of the original arcade machine and it was a fantastic experience. That fun of running through the levels, not getting mobbed by the hordes of enemies. Running away from death. Simply put its a classic formula with brilliant execution. You can place this game in front of a child or adult all these years later and its as good as the day it was released which for me defines what a timeless classic should be. Of course I do enjoy the NES box artwork. However, it’s the Commodore Amiga big box first pressing that really gets my collecting habit excited. I have to say it still give me joy to own a first pressing of the big box edition. For collectors this simply is the definitive conversion in many respects. With artwork in line with the original Atari concepts this box now screams nostalgia, with the dragon at the heart of the Gauntlet now taking centre stage. It’s always amusing too to see the back cover depicting the heroes facing an unknown evil together except for the elf who’s just doing his own thing. Inside you get the thrill of owning the original disk and the wonderful paperwork with original Atari illustration. For any serious Gauntlet series collection this is definitely one of the highlights in a historical sense. US Gold and Atari really did get their act together and deliver a game that worked on so many levels for all age groups.
In truth Gauntlet 2 plays in a very similar way to the first game. However, there are some important editions in the way of extra pickups. Items such as reflective shot meant that you could now bounce your projectiles around corners. The “It” curse made every monster in the Gauntlet follow you until you collided with another player to pass on the curse. In addition floor switches would open up certain areas, secret rooms were added, invisible walls, new enemies, this was Gauntlet on steroids. Everything about the Gauntlet experience had been lifted up a level and had created a genuine step up in the gameplay experience. With its iconic top down dungeon crawling format, cast of interesting protagonists Gauntlet 2 is still to this day regarded as a best in class game of its time. This is certainly one of my go to games when I’m asked what the Diablo of its day was.Gauntlet 2 kept gamers busy for some time and that’s a good thing as we wouldn’t see another entry in the series (other than the Deeper Dungeons) until 1990.
Even then this isn’t going to go the way you think, as it was an exclusive title for Atari’s own handheld device. The Atari Lynx. Join me in the next episode as the quest continues in Gauntlet: The Third Encounter.