This is a personal favorite. I had hours of fun with it, but is it as great as I remember it?

Review Date: March 30, 2021

Release Date: July 1, 1988

Platform: NES

Publisher: Tengen

Genre: Shooter

Anecdotes: Well, happy birthday to me! To celebrate, I’m covering a personal favorite of mine, Gauntlet. My youngest brother and I played this game A LOT as kids. We never beat it as kids, but this was one we revisited as young adults. It took many, many tries, but we finally beat it, and I’m counting it even though I died before exiting room 100. We had tons of hours of enjoyment out of this title and I wouldn’t give back those memories for anything.

I’ve had some interest in hacking this game. One idea was to make the game linear by repointing exits. I haven’t figured that one out, though. I changed every room into a treasure room. The game froze after room 22 because there is no route to 23 programmed. The same thing happened after room 35. Interestingly, room 96 DID have it programmed in, but the real game has no exit there. It’s a lot tougher than I thought it would be. The only permanent things I accomplished were stopped the HP drain and making rooms 1 and 84 accessible by password. I could adjust the palette, the playable character, the room type, and the key/bomb counts, but none of those were permanent. I could also change the next room to play while on the map screen. With that, I have an admission: All of my screenshots for this game are ROM hacked.

Description: Morak’s hiding an orb in his lair and it’s up to players to find it. Players have to start at room 1 and fight their way to room 100. There are three different types of rooms:

-Standard rooms: These rooms are full of enemies to blast through. There is no time limit. Rooms may have a single exit or multiple exits. Some rooms have fakes. Some even have the real exit randomly chosen from the fakes. Room 96 has no exit at all.

This is a standard room (73), but with an annoying twist: the walls are invisible.

-Clue rooms: Players have 99 seconds to find a clue (a white tile with a question mark on it) and exit the room. Failure to find the clue or exit the room on time means a character of Morak’s code will not be revealed and access to room 100 will be denied unless players have either a lucky guess or prior knowledge. Dying in a clue room leads to a special jingle and appearance from Morak. Exiting or running out the clock without exiting leads to the next room in numerical order, except in room 16, which leads to 19.

The first clue room in the game is this one, room 16. This one has the clue already revealed; the puzzle is figuring out how to reach it.

-Treasure rooms: There are five layouts used, depending on the world. They are reused several times in each world. In all cases, players have 30 seconds to find the exit. In the first three worlds, the exit location is determined randomly from a list of possible locations. In worlds 4 and 5, 15 or 16 exits appear on screen, but only one randomly determined exit is real. If players exit on time, they get a health refill and an updated password, then are sent to the next room in numerical order. Failure to exit on time sends players to the next room at their current health and without a new password. The only way to die in these rooms is to enter with less than 30 health and it drains to zero before exiting. Only the treasure rooms at 4, 8, and 67 can be skipped.

Here’s room 71, a world 4 treasure room, complete with time wasting stun tiles everywhere.


-The game offers four choices of who to play as. Each has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. In most cases, I prefer female characters; however, the Thyra (Valkyrie) doesn’t do it for me. The two things I like in this game are magic and speed. She is all right, but the Questor (Elf) and Merlin (Wizard) are stronger in those areas. Thor will be covered later.

That must be some great shield Thyra has. Looking at that score of 5 for defense, maybe I should have used her.

-Although health drops one unit per second, there is plenty of food lying around and exiting treasure rooms on time refills health.

-The music is awesome. I love the opening theme and the clue room jam. I’ve even started to like the treasure room theme. The four other room themes rock and have plenty of fans. Lastly, that 10 second ditty when dying in a clue room is just great. It’s an excellent soundtrack.

Dying in a clue room causes this to appear, plus a catchy short jingle comes with it.

-Every room is 2 screens by 2 screens, yet the developers somehow made them feel much bigger.

Negatives: The game is full of dirty, unfair tricks. Trial and error is a required skill. Among the traps:

-Missing a clue will lead to not having the vault code.

-Putting it the wrong vault code to enter room 100 is an instant game over.

Imagine doing all of that work to get here from room 79, only to make an error inputting the password, then seeing this.

-There is NO exit at all in room 96. Players are just left there to die.

There are two ways out of this: either wait for HP to reach 0 or hit the reset button.

-Room 94 has three exits. One leads to a dead end in 96, one eventually leads back to room 32, and one leads to the end of the game. Good luck guessing which is which.

Tengen decided to salute the female body by making a room shaped like one. There are three exits. Two of them are out in the open, but won’t help. The third is hidden but must be found to finish the game.

-Passwords don’t start players anywhere past room 79. (My private hack added a start point at 84, but I know how to point them anywhere.)

-Unrelated to the cheap traps, there is Thor. Thor (Warrior) is easily the worst option to play as. He’s slower than the cashiers at my local grocery store, so he will frequently fail to reach treasure room exits on time. This means he will not get his health refilled as often. He is also unable to shoot diagonally through walls like the others, so the generators have free reign to spawns tons of ghosts. The others can clear some of that out and maybe even hit the generator.

More Screenshots:

Two rooms after Cheap Trap 94 is Cheap Trap 96, the room with no exit. This game is very unfair.
Have a look at Cheap Trap 70. The clue is hidden in a wall, but even worse are the invisible walls blocking the top and bottom paths. Flashing tiles will open them, but time will be running out as that happens.
Speaking of cheap traps, here’s Cheap Trap 56. This one is designed to sap players’ energy while they waste time trying to get everything in that octagon. It’s impossible to obtain any of it.
Morak is full of it. If the “Outsmarter” was really that smart, nobody would get near his vault nor its combination.
Shut up, Morak! What a Skeletor ripoff this bonehead is…
Here’s the first boss of the game, who is also the last boss of the game.
One final CHEAP, CHEAP, CHEAP, CHEAP TRAP for players. That Orb on the right must be grabbed to see the ending. It’s very easy to just take the exit, accidentally or intentionally. Doing so is a cheap Game Over.

Final Opinion: Gauntlet is chock full of unfair traps and things that only exist to show off the Game Over screen. I know the traps, and this game is still next to impossible to complete. If playing this game, be patient and learn from mistakes. Trial and error is the way to go. Don’t be ashamed to use a walkthrough, either. It’s probably a C due to the frustration factor, but with my personal bias, I’m bumping it up.

Grade: B


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *