Thanks to the wonders of Xbox Live Arcade, we've been able to go back in time and play the original Gauntlet on the 360. The premise of the game was almost too simple: select one of four warriors with varying attributes of speed and strength, then mash the heck out of your buttons until you conquer the evil hoards. In the arcade, Gauntlet was one of the first titles that you could play with four players, and, with friends, Gauntlet was one of the all-time great quarter-suckers. There was no story. You would just grab a friend and mash.
Here in the present, Midway is attempting to revive the hack and slash genre with Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows on current-generation consoles, and hard-core fans of the original will not be disappointed. Seven Sorrows is just good old-fashioned, three-dimensional Gauntlet. You will hack and slash, and you will hack and slash some more.
In its attempt to bring Gauntlet up to date, however, Midway tries to add a strange storyline that just seems out of place. Please, bear with me here: the Emperor Ghost of the once mighty Uricointi Empire is cursed for betraying the four great immortal heroes, the Warrior, the Wizard, the Valkyrie and the Elf. Back in the day, the Emperor coveted the heroes very immortality and the Emperor's trusted six advisors convinced him to trap the heroes in the Great Tree Rit'i Malki, which "grew its very roots into the nexus of magical energy at the bottom of the world."
Jeez, who writes this stuff? Did Midway track down Tolkien's alcoholic cousin to pen the storyline? If you haven't already guessed, the advisors turn on the emperor, steal his power, enslave the world and transform themselves into evil forms like the Scarecrow and the Twisted Man. The Emperor, having seen the error of his ways, frees the four heroes and sends them after the six evil advisors to mend the sorrows he has wrought.
Between levels, the Emperor melodramatically narrates the story with his deep, booming voice, and there are some nice still-shot screens that show the four warriors moving on to their next obstacle. Try as they might, though, it's almost as if the people at Midway just haphazardly threw some story together just to have a story. The four heroes don't talk or have any personality, so there is no way to relate to the characters and no reason to care about what happens.
The heart of Seven Sorrows, like its predecessor, is the on-screen, hack and slash action, which can be a lot of fun. The four characters each have very different fighting styles, each equally enjoyable in their own way. The Warrior is a hulking brute with powerful combos and close attacks, with limited magic and projectile attacks. He wields a giant axe that has good range and looks pretty dang cool. The Valkyrie is a slippery little swashbuckler with a short sword and a strong projectile attack. The Elf is a swordfighter and uses a fencing style to stave off enemies. The Wizard uses his staff to cast spells and is the weakest physically of the four.
The controls are simple. There is a hack button, a slash button, a launch button, a projectile button and a block button. With the D-Pad you can use your magic attacks, known as Mana. There is also a Mana nuclear blast that knocks out all on-screen enemies and is necessary to take out Death when he makes an appearance. Yeah, for some reason, every so often when you open a chest, a giant grim reaper will appear and hurl purple fireworks at you until you Mana-blast him into oblivion.
Midway also implemented an upgradeable combo system with which you can purchase increasingly devastating attacks which look awesome. The Warrior for instance, can launch enemies into the air, then twirl the axe around like a baton and juggle them. The Wizard has a nice arsenal of spells, like a giant burst of lightning or an explosion of purple rings that blind surrounding enemies. Combos are purchased with gold found in treasure chests. The large number of combos coupled with the variety of the attack styles of the four warriors make for a deep hack and slash experience, if there is such a thing.
Possibly in homage to old-school Gauntlet, health in Seven Sorrows is replenished by eating turkeys, ham and giant wedges of cheese. In multiplayer, conversation can get pretty hilarious as you scream out to your teammate, "Save me that cheese!" Speaking of multiplayer, Seven Sorrows is clearly meant to be played with friends. While the single-player mode can be repetitive, multiplayer let's you team together with friends to take out enemies in different ways. We enjoyed launching enemies into the air with the Warrior then shooting a barrage of arrows with the Elf at the enemies' flying bodies. Also, there is friendly competition as you race about the screen for gold and food. The bosses, which can be frustratingly difficult if you fight solo, are a breeze in multiplayer -- almost too easy, in fact. All hell breaks loose when you have all four heroes going at once.
Midway also implemented a rudimentary RPG-like system of character upgrades. As mentioned, you can purchase combos with gold found in the game. You also build experience points and level up throughout the game. But just like with the story mode, the upgrade system feels as if it was just thrown in the game to have it there. In Ninja Gaiden, for instance, you can purchase weapon upgrades from the blacksmith or decide to purchase different items instead. In Seven Sorrows, there are no items and weapon and armor upgrades are found in treasure chests, so there's no real thought involved in upgrading your character.
The same goes for the ridiculous puzzles that Midway included. When you walk into certain rooms, you'll hear a little bell that signifies some kind of puzzle and a message like "Find a way out!" appears. Well, finding a way out is only done by killing every enemy in sight, and then a magic key or a hidden switch will appear. Really, whenever you are in doubt about what to do, kill every enemy in the area and the solution will reveal itself. The fact that Midway even attempts to disguise these situations as puzzles is, well, puzzling.
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