Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Memory Bank: Gauntlet (Atari Games; 1985)

During my freshman year at the University of Richmond in the fall of 1988, there wasn’t a whole lot to do, socially-speaking.  I was a skinny kid in big glasses who didn’t go out for sports and liked Star Trek.  I had no interest in fraternities or the school’s religious clubs (though, truth-be-told, I did have an ever-so-brief flirtation with a Baptist Bible Study group, which helps to account for my knowledge of Scripture…)

Anyway, I met my beautiful wife, Kathryn, at the beginning of my sophomore year and my life changed for the (infinitely) better.

But before that ever happened,  I spent an inordinate (and probably unhealthy) amount of time in the Pier, the campus Student Building, playing a classic arcade game from Atari, called Gauntlet (1985).

As you may remember, Gauntlet was unique in that it was a four player arcade game.  Intrepid gamers could play as the Warrior, the Valkyrie, the Wizard and the Elf, at least originally.  The idea was to battle enemies such as ghosts and demons while traversing dungeon-like labyrinths and environs. 

I looked Gauntlet up on Wikipedia out of curiosity and it is apparently part of a genre called “hack and slash,” a phrase that pretty well describes the game’s content as remember it.

Among other things, Gauntlet is also apparently famous because it had a kind of computerized narrator who would voice warnings (“Your life is running out”) and reminders (such as “shots do not hurt other players…yet.”)   I can’t say as I remember much specifically about game play, only that we would play the bloody thing for hours, and lose a hell of a lot of quarters in the process.   It’s a good memory from a year that, in some respects, I’d rather forget.

In terms of characters, I always played as the Valkyrie -- the female warrior in the foursome -- in honor of my enduring love of the same-named character from Battle Beyond the Stars (1980). 

I can’t remember why we did so, but on one memorable night in 1988, my pals and I drove downtown instead of to the student building to play Gauntlet at a bustling city arcade in Richmond, one very close to the now-defunct Byrd Theater, if memory serves. 

I should have been studying for an upcoming computer science exam, but instead, I think we were out at the arcade from midnight to 2:00 am, and I blew twenty-five dollars on the infernal machine.

Ah, to be eighteen and dumb as shit again…

Anyway, I harbor a dream that one of these days, I’m going to thoroughly clean out my garage and convert it into an arcade entertainment center/rec room for me and Joel.  We already have a pool table and a foosball table (which Joel and I play a lot…), but I’m thinking I really need a restored Gauntlet arcade console to go with those stations.

That…and an air hockey table, but that’s the subject of a different post.  I'll just close this one by saying I recently visited the University of Richmond campus for the first time in probably a decade, and was deeply disappointed, though not surprised, to see that Gauntlet was long gone.


  1. My folks used to be in a bowling league in the 80s and for some reason, the alley had this machine instead of the usual batch of out-of-date Pac-Man and Space Invaders, so, instead of fighting with dozens of 13- and 14-year olds at the arcade, me and a couple of other kids had Gauntlet to ourselves for a few hours.

    I'd love to have one of these (and one of those Galaxian-as-table games they used to have at Chuck E. Cheese).

    1. Hi Randal,

      It sounds like you had a very similar experience to mine. I've got to get my hands on a Gauntlet machine. I wouldn't mind a Galaxian machine either...

  2. oh wow.. so many quarters vanished into this machine, to stave off the desperate narrator's cry of 'Blue Valkyrie is about to die!' (I too was a valkyrie fan, though I'd not seen Battle Beyond the Stars at that point)

    What a fun memory.

    I even rather enjoyed the 'Legends' update when it released many years ago. Felt like old times. Just prettier.

  3. Oh man Gauntlet was a blast. I would play this any chance I got, usually when we hit Chuck E. Cheese. I'd usually play as the Valkyrie too, she had the best weapon, if I remember correctly. Second pick was the elf.

    I vividly remember the booming voice from the game. It became a running joke with my friends, whenever playing any type of game someone would usually yell, "You are about to die!" in a deep voice (or as deep as we could manage, we were pretty young).

    I also remember the sound effects in the game being pretty outlandish. With the grunts of satisfaction after eating food sounding a bit... well... satisfied. :)

    There was a fun update of this game called "Get Medieval". It had the same game play but the voice acting was a very amusing, with the barbarian quoting lines from "Conan" every once in a while and the wizard replaced by a vampy sorceress who would hit on the monsters.

  4. Gauntlet is a fairly expensive older arcade to acquire as it it very desireable for many people for the same reasons you listed.