Gauntlet's strange echoes: "Wizard, as an ironist, you alone receive some sense of subjective freedom."

gauntletII.png From Ross Sutherland's Eco-esque review of Atari's 1985 arcade game, Gauntlet:
Wizard, as an ironist, you alone receive some sense of subjective freedom. Your outré dress sense deprives your surroundings of a finite degree of cognitive reality. In this manner, the dungeon can never truly hold you.
I love it when people read between the lines of old video games, imagining a backstory and motivation for the likes of Pong or Asteroids. But those early titles are so abstract that a certain kind of humor seems intrinsic to the project. So it's delightful to see someone with the same fetish I have: extrapolating literary pretensions from later games that offer more to work with, but whose hardware nonetheless imposed a ruthless minimalism onto the design.
Of those, Atari's Gauntlet always seemed most pregnant with possibility. The doomed, infinite quest is filled with pathos--if the protagonists are not dead, they are certainly already in hell. Most references, however, lean toward pop culture citation. For example, check out Five Iron Frenzy's song, "Wizard Needs Food Badly," a phrase from the game whose variations have earned a place in broader culture. There is even a Cafepress site devoted to it.) Here's my contribution to this very tiny genre: Such Bravery, a short story which places Gauntlet as a strange, myth-addled event from the Baltic crusades, itself hazily remembered by Thyra, the 'Valkyrie.' Twenty years on, our aging heroes are uneasily reunited at the old man's funeral, only to find he still has some tricks up his sleeve. Fans may get a kick out of the cute references to the game. It's such a shame that after Gauntlet II, most of the sequels have been mediocre. An iffy-looking DS remake is apparently complete, but seems to be stuck in a dungeon.


  1. A really excellent book to check out in this vein is “Lucky Wander Boy” by DB Weiss. The majority of this book is devoted to the themes of reading between the lines in old videogames and the implications it has on a 20 something burnout. Fun fact! The author is now working on the Song of Ice and Fire HBO series.

  2. Evidently the Gauntlet DS engine was used for the G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra game, and bodes badly for any proper release. :(

    I thought the Gauntlet arcade and other sequels weren’t too bad, followed the general concept well enough even if it was 3D. If they could redo a top-down Gauntlet something close to GTA: Chinatown Wars, I could dig it.

    I remember gushing over Get Medieval back in the day also.

  3. This is of course a subjective response, but I take great personal offense with the phrase “most of the sequels have been mediocre.” Sure, Seven Sorrows could have been much better, but Gauntlet: Dark Legacy (both in coin-op and console variants) was exceptional in gameplay mechanics, graphics, and re-playability. I probably have dumped more time on that game than most I’ve played, and would still seriously consider it over many current offerings on, say, XBL. It’s a great title, and a worthy followup to the original.

    1. “I take great personal offense with the phrase “most of the sequels have been mediocre.” … Gauntlet: Dark Legacy (both in coin-op and console variants) was exceptional.”

      I said “most,” not “all!”

  4. Sometimes, late at night, my stomach will grumble, and a long-ago voice will bubble up from my unconscious:

    “Valkyrie needs food, badly!”

  5. @Dole – *thanks* for reminding me of “Get Medieval”!
    My wife & I used to love playing that together.

    I’ll have to hunt it down again… :-)

  6. Gauntlet is one of the reasons my brother is a hero to me. He managed to play the game for a whole day on just one credit.

  7. Gauntlet and the Pizza Eatery go hand and hand with myself and 3 of my best friends. If you know where the V.A. Hospital is next to Cal State Long Beach, well across the street there was a place ages ago called the Pizza Eatery. I’ll never forget the first time dropping quarters into Gauntlet. $20 and $40 would disappear as time flew by day after day. That game sucked away more of my hard earned money as a teenager more than any other game, along with the square pizzas pumped out by the Pizza Eatery and gallons of Coke. Yes their pizza was square.

    The Pizza Eatery is long gone but to this day my best friends Kevin and Mike still quote Gauntlet when we are hungry. That is all anyone needs to say about a game that even all these years later we still quote it, and when we do we miss playing that game.

  8. The first gold-farmer I ever knew was a guy, about 20, who hung out at the Sheppard Centre arcade in North York, near the high school I attended for the first 2 years of my 7 year career.

    He was a part-time hash dealer, but his clients only came in at lunch and after school, so mostly he just played the shit out of Gauntlet, running it all day on one or two quarters. By the time we 14 and 15 year olds trickled in, he’d have some monster character built up, and he’d sell it off for $5 or more to the highest bidder, then mooch around selling hash to the rest of us.

    My ringtone is still “Valyrie, your life-force is running out!”

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