Gauntlet Series Retrospective Part 4: Gauntlet 3

Gauntlet Series Retrospective Part 4: Gauntlet 3
Gauntlet Series Retrospective Part 4: Gauntlet 3

Insert Disk collects Gauntlet 3 for the Commodore Amiga.

Today’s retro game review is Gauntlet 3 for the Commodore Amiga. This retro gaming classic is the focus of part 4 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 4 of 10.

Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. It’s part 4 of this Gauntlet Mini series. Welcome to the Gauntlet! So far we’ve been traversing the classic era of Gauntlet games having looked at the original Gauntlet for the 8-bit generation, Gauntlet 2 for the Commodore Amiga and a look at Gauntlet the Third Encounter for the Atari Lynx. With the Third Encounter being an Atari Lynx exclusive console owning fans of the series were getting restless. It was now 1991 and there hadn’t been a sequential major Gauntlet release since 1986 with the impressive Gauntlet 2.

Things had moved on since then though. The 16-bit era was well and truly upon us and gamers expected more. Which is why Atari and Tengen set to break the mould with Gauntlet 3 on the Commodore Amiga. The classic era had started off strongly with Gauntlet 1, Gauntlet 2 and the Deeper Dungeons and The Third Encounter had proved that Gauntlet needed to return to home computers to really hit its target audience. However, yet another straight top-down affair would hardly impress for a fourth outing, the presentation needed to be updated just a little. The game also needed to reach for a more impressive scale and technical delivery if it was to compete with newer fantasy games of the day. Looking at the box there was some instant good news for Commodore Amiga collectors and that came in the form of the physical release. With US Gold creating the best in class edition of Gauntlet 2 and with that also being on the Commodore Amiga there were high hopes. Add in to this that Gauntlet 3 was co-developed by Atari subsidiary Tengen in a double billing with US Gold this Gauntlet looked set to push the formula forward and break from the disappointing sales of Third Encounter on the Lynx. If you could pick all of the best components of the series so far they should all come together for this Final Quest.
In addition to the Commodore Amiga the Gauntlet 3 was released on the Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum. This totally ignored the Sega Master System, Nintendo Entertainment System and would also forgo the new next gen 16-bit consoles, the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive and the Super Nintendo. Atari’s eggs were clearly all in its classic follower’s basket.

The box was rather promising. The Gauntlet 3 naming now front and centre and some rather decent artwork from Peter Andrew Jones this looks the part and something to get excited about. The box also shows off new classes on the side artwork and the back cover looks to show off a decent offering of game. I especially like the text: First there was… Gauntlet – The Arcade Sensation. Then came… Gauntlet 2 – An Innovation. Now US Gold brings to you… Gauntlet 3 – The Revelation. It makes you feel that there was a sincere attempt to learn from the legacy of the series but also take a risk to change things up a bit. So, Gauntlet was going isometric. So just to clarify up until this point Gauntlet had very much been a top down affair, any level of depth created by simple sprites. Gauntlet 3 however looked to change the perspective. Instead of looking down you were now looking across the field of play. In itself not a bad thing but the execution, well let’s just say it was not what Gauntlet fans had come to expect. The Revelation was that the gates of Hell were indeed opened.

Inside you get a rather decent manual. As you’ll know if you’re a regular on the channel I love a good manual and Gauntlet 3 most definitely delivers here. Expect a well printed booklet explaining the back story, the heroes, the eight kingdoms in the game, the numerous monsters and the treasures. I have to say that its really well put together even if some of the drawings of the monsters are a little comical. Its clear that there’s a lot of content here though and a game backed enough to warrant full colour printing. You’ll also get the game on three floppy disks and a rather intriguing black card construction. This is the anti-piracy combination lock wheel which consists of an outer ring of letters and an inner ring of letters. The game will ask you a code at the start of the game and you will spin the middle circle to line up the code. It’s then just a case of reading the letters in the strategically cut out holes. This is a difficult piece to scan to show you in detail in a video but if I shine a bright light on this one you should be able to see the glazed sections showing the text. An altogether smart piece of protection. This time we’re in the land of Capra and the back story explains how monsters from dark dimensions are pouring in and it’s your task to defeat them. With eight kingdoms eight heroes emerge for this final quest. It feels rather epic and so far so good for the game setup.

So, let’s boot this one up. A rather pleasant scroll opening and the game itself did also have some decent ideas lurking beneath its surface. As with the third encounter the roster of playable character classes has been greatly expanded. “Some slow loading time later…” Unlike the cowboy, nerd and pirates of The Third Encounter were back on high fantasy brand again which is really good to see. There’s classes including Warrior, Lizardman, Iceman, Wizard Elf, Rockman, Valkyrie and Merman. Eight heroes and eight types of offensive weapon all very much in line with the classic Dungeons and Dragons style universe. So at this point were used to Thor the Warrior, Thyra the Valkyrie, Questor the Elf and Merlin the Wizard. Except this time its Magus the Wizard. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Maybe Merlin was busy this week. It’s not a deal breaker but it would have been nice if he had shown up. Let’s go with Questor because you can never go too far wrong with an elf in a fantasy game. “Even more slow loading times later…”. Disk Swap. “Even more really slow loading times later…”. “Finally”.

Oh, dear lord what is this? Where to begin with the disappointment. Firstly the character design is just really, really ugly. This really didn’t look anything like the Gauntlet fans were familiar with. Instantly the earliest games even those running on the NES had more charm. Secondly, the character control. In previous iterations, even in The Third Encounter we received tight handling to run around the screen. Here though. Well, it’s not just like running through treacle, the controls barley seem functional. It’s hard to convey unless you are controlling the character yourself but trust me it just really frustratingly slow and it barley feels like you have any meaningful precision in direction or shot. As for the monsters, they look as bad in game as they do in the manual. They will swarm you as in previous games and the idea of destroying their generating bases in still intact. Just somehow though it feel like a real chore to do so. It’s definitely a wild departure from that slick 4 player coin-op action. Oh yeah, that 4 player action that we had in Gauntlet 2 on the NES and Amiga back as far as 1986, now gone here in 1991. What a joke. The scrolling is hideous to contend. If you run up or down vertically you’ll hit the top or bottom of the screen. Move diagonally and you’ll sort of slide to the side slowly. After a while this began to give me motion sickness as my movements and the screen just didn’t seem in sync. Also, be prepared to get stuck on every piece of scenery becomes absolutely enraging after a while. Look at this, even the ghosts are just making their own fun. And this green thing, what is that?

Secondly, there are no sound effects, just expect a rather out of place rock track that sounds like it was the most generic the developer could find. There’s nothing fantasy themed about it and really doesn’t serve the purpose that a musical track should do in embedding you in the world. Ok, in to the first dungeon. “Another excessive loading time…”. Oh, you have to be kidding me. I’m not joking it seems to take a lifetime to load these sections. The ZX Spectrum outstripping the Commodore Amiga for loading times, just what has gone wrong here? “Take bucket to well and get key”, ok.

I’ll just check what’s down here. Oh no, no… “Even more loading…”. “Now take key to alter in church” So, I now have a key but where’s the church?
“Even more loading than ever…”. Is this the church? There are gravestones and an entrance but I can’t seem to get in. This could be the door, “Loading that is now making me angry…”. A blue bouncy ball, what is this?

The game plays incredibly slowly, you no longer feel the freedom of running around the dungeon. Entering new areas is a pain due to loading times and the isometric view just doesn’t sit well at all for this type of game in my opinion. The game includes a lot of the same elements, the characters, the food, and the monster shrines. Just somehow it doesn’t translate well. Having said that it’s all very well me sitting here and telling you it wasn’t a great game and I do have certain sympathy for the developers. You’ve been handed one of the most beloved series of all time and told to modernise it. Yet another top down iteration of Gauntlet perhaps just wouldn’t have cut it with gamers. Releasing essentially another version of Third Encounter of Gauntlet 2 would have seemed like a bit of a cash in. In short, the Gauntlet 3 project was a bit of a poisoned chalice. Innovate and alienate the fans or stay the same and have the fans lose interest. It’s a story we see surprisingly often in gaming. “The Forest drawbridge is now down to exit the level. Hurry for a bonus.” Hurry, I can barely move. “More excessive loading…”. “10 seconds of gameplay and then…”. Is this the exit? Maybe? I’ll tell you what it is though, a trigger for more loading. Ok, end of the level. Let’s see what the next one is like.

Oh dear, this is just awful. If anything the music and graphics are getting worse. You are able to power up your shot power and speed with extra collectables but in all honestly I’d had enough of the game by this point. The design just gets worse and worse with heavily saturated spawn areas and levels that are so tedious I couldn’t stomach anything past realm 2. Now, if you watch the channel regularly and know my style I tend to look for the positives in a game and don’t often waste my time on games that I wouldn’t recommend but it has to be said that Gauntlet 3 The Final Quest is simply an appalling game on many levels. No sound effects, poor level design, horrible graphics, terrible control system, no narrator, little or no continuity in relation to what made parts 1 and 2 great and quite literally the worst loading times I have ever seen on my beloved Commodore Amiga, its fair to say that Gauntlet 3 is one of the worst games of all time. Had this not been a Gauntlet game and made as a fan project I could perhaps overlook some issues but from Atari, Tengen and US Gold this was a simply bewildering excuse for a Gauntlet title. Especially one that aimed on winning back a drifting audience.

I won’t dwell too long on the horrors of this game as I’m sure that you can see for yourself just how disappointing it is and I can’t even recommend it for even the most hardcore Gauntlet collectors. It’s near unplayable at times and certainly not very fun. So what could Gauntlet 3 tell us about where the series was headed? Well I think that there was something we could take away from Gauntlet 3. It’s that a sense of story was going to become more relevant for the world of Gauntlet and gaming in general. Gauntlet, Gauntlet 2 and Gauntlet The Third Encounter all had a back story but it was a very basic one at best. Originating from an arcade setting this is completely appropriate. Standing in an arcade you want the decision to be, should I be an Elf or a Wizard and away you go. Not, I wonder about how the Elf’s arrows never run out, why are dungeons 32 x 32 units and who strategically left all those keys and cooked ham out? The arcade is one thing but in the 16-bit era gamers were beginning to look for more narrative to the series. Somewhere between The Third Encounter and Gauntlet 3 this was starting to be teased out. There’s a notion of what lays outsides the Gauntlet, a sense of who the main enemy is and the world in general is being shaped. It was badly handled by Gauntlet 3 in game but the supporting paperwork did give us the narrowest of indications of hope in terms of developing the series in to a more story driven series. Does this work in a dungeon crawling hack and slash? Arguably it had a limited effect due to the execution but this is something that the second era of Gauntlet revived and owes a lot to Gauntlet 3s groundwork. You rarely see Gauntlet 3 revisited these days in reviews, it’s a sort of failed experiment. An excellent idea to breathe life in to the franchise but sadly never quite hit the spot due to the terrible execution. As such we all just went back to playing Gauntlet 2. I don’t think that players minded the shift to an isometric view too much, it was after all the revelation that the box promised. Just not the revelation we had wanted.

The Gauntlet series had seemingly died in 1991. Gauntlet 3 was named The Final Quest which seems very appropriate looking back. It was clear that an isometric sequel was out of the question at least in this style but could Atari appeal to fans one last time to see out the 16-bit era. Atari knew that releasing yet another top down Gauntlet would be risky but 1993 saw them roll the dice for one last chance with gamers. To this day the last numeric sequel in the series and the last of the classic era “Gauntlet IV” would have to be near perfect to make up for the shame of Gauntlet 3 yet not simply repeat Gauntlet 1 and 2.

Find out in the next episode if the classic era would end as strongly as it started in Gauntlet IV’s brave last stand to appeal to gamers. The quest continues…

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