It sounds really exciting, doesn't it? After all, Gauntlets I and II were massive smash hits in the arcades thanks to their four-player action and endless levels, and US Gold's conversions were a big success too. So, thrilled at the prospect of reviewing a big-name arcade licence, I nipped out to my local amusement arcade (Krazy Kevin's Koin-ops) eagerly clutching a fistful of 50p's in order to try out the original and draw up a few comparisons.
'Ain't never 'eard of it,' Kevin told me.
'But you must have it. Look - I've got the Amiga version right here.'
'Nah. You've been 'ad, mate.'
MAKING THE MOST OF A LICENCE
It transpires that Gauntlet III isn't actually an arcade conversion at all. It's more of an attempt by US Gold to wring the last possible drop of mileage out of its aging Gauntlet licence, and perhaps stir and some interest in its back-catalogue.
And there's nothing wrong with that, even though Gauntlet III bears only a passing resemblance to the originals (and even that's only in the name, to tell the truth). What really matters is whether it's anywhere near as good as the first two games.
So - is it? Erm, well, no, not really, but it's not too bad all the same. The trouble is that it takes all the features that made Gauntlet the hit it was (four players, millions of cunningly-planned levels, simple but compulsive gameplay etc.) and throws about half of them away. It then messes about with what's let a bit, and ends up with something that doesn't quite feel the same, somehow. Having said that, it's a perfectly good game in its ow right, with a couple of interesting features.
Gauntlet III isn't actually an arcade conversion at all
THE SAME AGAIN, BUT DIFFERENT
Gauntlet III's main departure from Gauntlet is, as you'll doubtless have spotted, that it's in 3D. No more little coloured blocks with all the spaces in between crammed with baddies jostling to get you. Instead each level is drawn in attractive, isometric 3D which lends more of an adventurey than an arcadey feel to the game.
And that's the other things. It does have slight adventure overtones, although thankfully not enough to obscure its roots as an arcade game. Rather than simply shooting your way to the exit through level after level, you've got tasks to perform.
To complete the first stage, for example, you've got to find a bucket, take it to a well to get a key, take the key to the altar in the church and then leg it back to near your starting points within a time limit, where a bridge to the exit will have appeared. Each step is clearly explained, so there's no actual thinking to do, and it all works pretty well. (The next stage is a bit crapper, though).
There's also some excellent but very repetitive music, where perhaps some sound effects might have been more useful. I mean, what's Gauntlet without the occasional cry of 'Blue Elf shot the food' or 'Red Warrior - your life force is running out'? And.... Oh dear - I'm starting to pull it to bits already. Right, seeing as we're on the subject, here goes:
The main snag is that it's incredibly easy. You tend to accumulate life force much quicker than you loose it, even if you're as useless as me. That means completing the thing will be more a test of endurance than skill.
It has its faults, but Gauntlet III's too good to dismiss
Then there's the fact that exits are two-way. No problem in itself, but if, after emerging on a new level, you inadvertently flip the joystick in the wrong direction you go back to the previous one, with the 30 seconds of disk accessing that entails, and then another 30 seconds to get back again. Er, what else? Well, each level is several screens wide and several screen high, but you can only tell if you've reached the edge of the playing area when the scrolling stops and you can't go any further - there are no walls or anything.
This looks highly naff. And so does the collision detection for that matter. You sometimes have to hit a piece of food at just the right angle to be able to pick it up. Oh yes, and you can only have two players. There also seems to be a limitation on the number of sprites on screen at once, so you won't see screens brimming with baddies as in the original. Quite a list, eh?
So it has its faults, but Gauntlet III's too good to dismiss as a waste of money. I suppose I'm being ever so slightly generous (being an ever so slightly generous sort of person), but I still found it quite fun. In fact, I reckon it deserves a bit more than the 'low sixties' mark everyone suggested I gave it. So it can have a 'mid sixties' one instead.