A lot of gaming parents discovered their passion for the medium in the age of arcades when gaming was a little more social and a lot more pixelated. For many of these folks, Gauntlet, released in 1985, was the game of choice. It was the first game to introduce cooperative play on a large scale. With its swords and sorcery aesthetic, it bucked the dominant theme of space combat. Funnily enough, Gauntlet’s development had its root in family gaming. Developer Ed Logg said that he based a lot of the game around his son’s interest in Dungeons and Dragons.
While there was a Gauntlet reboot released last year, it feels cluttered and unfocused. If you want to relive the glory days while introducing newcomers to the thrills of Gauntlet-style gameplay, my money is on the smaller, heart-filled Hammerwatch. And as a bonus, you can’t shoot the food in this game.
In Hammerwatch, you (and, as always in this column, a buddy!) play some daring adventurers exploring a dungeon. Or maybe it’s a prison? There’s definitely some treasure involved. Well, the story’s unimportant. It’s you and your partner against legions of bugs, bats, floating eyeballs, skeletons, and a slew of other classic fantasy foes. In arcade tradition, the game throws these enemies at you in tremendous waves, which you dispense with like a belt-sander through balsa wood.
There are six character classes to choose from, ranging from the straightforward ranger (arrow guy) to more bizarre warlock (poison dagger guy? health drain guy?) All classes have different abilities and different health and mana distributions. For example, the paladin starts with a shield and can take a beating, while the wizard predictably has the largest amount of mana to spend spouting fire. The variations between classes are fun to play around with as you find one that fits your own sensibilities. I ended up with a fondness for the paladin, while my copilot enjoyed the nimble, dual-wielding thief.
While Hammerwatch is clearly full of homage to the days of video games past, from theme to music to the racking up of extra lives, it never feels like an old game. And that’s a good thing. The art initially appears to be the 16-bit simplicity of the older days, but there’s actually some complex graphical work going on, such as the flares of light that emanate from the wizard’s fireball attack. It’s also picked up some innovations in game design. Progress through the game feels great. Purchasing upgrades to your character means you slowly ramp up in power as you move through more difficult levels.
Hammerwatch is a great way to get your retro kicks in, while not alienating newer players spoiled on stuff like “easy to understand interface” and “strong level design.” It’s a modern riff on an old formula, and a perfect game to bridge the generational gap with your loved ones.