Hot on the heels of the success of the first Gauntlet came the sequel in 1986 featuring 100 more custom floors and a handful of new features to appease hungry fans eager for more adventure.
It wasn’t a huge change from the original game — from a distance, it could seem to be exactly like the first aside from the big, Roman numeral II appended next to the name along with a new title screen. But upon closer inspection, the sequel offered a slew of new additions to the formula.
One of the biggest, and most welcome, changes to the game was enabling other players to play as their favorite class regardless of their position on the cabinet. In the first game, player characters were determined by where they were which could break the hearts of certain players wanting to play their favorite only to see someone else in that spot.
In Gauntlet II, your spot on the cabinet determined only your color. Tilting the joystick allowed you to pick one of the four roles to play as, whether it was the quick Elf, the potion powerful Wizard, the axe chucking Warrior, or the armored Valkyrie. That made it possible for players to form up unorthodox parties, such as consisting of only one class, adding a huge twist to Gauntlet, enabling mobs of Wizards to rain fireballs on everyone or Elves to storm enemies with a hail of arrows.
Most of the monsters, like the Grunt, the Lobber, the Demon, Ghosts, and Death made it back. Now there was even a Dragon, a stationary beastie whose weak spot was its head and which could melt characters in seconds with its breath attack if they venture too close. The good news was that it was rare and on dying, could drop valuable, ability enhancing potions. The bad news, as you may already guess, was that it was pretty deadly.
The dungeon levels also had a number of new tricks up their sleeves with force fields that could sap your health to special treasures invoking a number of strange, and often useful, effects. There was a ricochet ability that could be unlocked allowing your shots to bounce off of walls, amulets of invisibility, and then there was the dreaded “IT”.
“IT” was a glowing ball that would appear and tag a player, making them “it”. They became the lightning rod for all of the monster aggro making it a bit easier for other players to get on with what they were doing. Solo players didn’t have to worry about this since they were the sole target anyway, but this could be sticky for parties of adventurers especially when the tagged player could tag someone else to be “it” resulting in a bit of fun…or succeeding only in aggro’ing the other players instead.
Gauntlet II was ported to a number of platforms but notably, the NES version did not undergo the kind of storied treatment that its predecessor did sticking largely to its arcade roots. There was no quest, no clue rooms to uncover. Just a straight up slog through deadly floors in search for treasure and a high score this time around. However, it was one of the only games on the system to feature four-way play if you had the NES Satellite or the NES Four Score adapters.
Mobygames also notes that an X-rated mod that floated around on MS-DOS thanks to a little creative hex-editing changing the characters and the enemies (the title screen features the Valkyrie sans loincloth). This one is actually still floating out there (such as on the Internet Archive) where one of the teaser screens also displays all of the changes such as turning the magic items like amulets and power ups into “sexual powers” and changing the look of the monsters themselves as well as renaming the heroes. And people thought Skyrim mods could get wild.
Gauntlet II continued the tradition of the first game, expanding its legend and delivering more fun to the masses but there wouldn’t be a Gauntlet III — at least in the arcades. The next release for Gauntlet, Gauntlet: The Third Encounter in 1990, would appear on the Atari Lynx handheld game system. But even then, The Third Encounter was only a rebranded game purchased from Epyx originally called Time Quests and Treasure Chests and given the Gauntlet name in the hopes of drumming up nostalgia according to Robert Jung in his review of the game. Gauntlet wouldn’t return to the arcades until 1998 with Gauntlet Legends.
There are a lot of reasons for probably why that was, a grab bag of issues Atari Games (the company spun off from Atari that focused on the arcade and was behind the Gauntlet arcade releases) would wrestle with going forward. Competition had grown fierce in the arcade in the form of opponents such as Nintendo, Konami, Capcom, Namco, Taito, and many others.
The resurrection of the home console market had also begun eating slowly away at the arcade scene thanks to catalysts such as the runaway success of the Nintendo Entertainment System in the West and the rise of the 16-bit wars. Looking at which way the wind was blowing, Atari’s many faces shifted resources to nab a piece of the new home market pie, as well as promote their own PC line, although a few arcade cabs still made the rounds on through the 90s bearing their name.
Gauntlet and its sequel left an impression that others would take similar inspiration from through titles such as Sega’s Quartet to Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles adaptation. The top down dungeon crawl is still remembered today as a fascinating icon of the arcade scene, a no-nonsense slice of dungeons, dragons, and party-based cameraderie that didn’t require anything more than a bit of button mashing, some brain power, a pocket full of coin, and patience to forgive the player that shot the food.