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American Gladiators Review

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Developer: Incredible Technologies Publisher: Gametek
Release Date: 1991 Also On: Amiga, Atari ST, DOS, Genesis, SNES

Gametek was known for releasing video game versions of all the popular gameshows on TV during the 80s and 90s. They also took some time to go more towards action titles following shows that fit the theme, and American Gladiators is one of them. Keep in mind I’ll be briefly going over each section of the game, since it’s really more like a 5-in-1, but the scores apply to American Gladiators as a whole.

Graphically, American Gladiators is standard for Gametek. What’s that mean? Well, that means you have a drab range of colors and less-than-perfect design, but overall they work. It’s easy enough to tell who you are and what you’re doing, it just doesn’t look as good as it could. Should have been a little more diverse in terms of color, and that’s my major problem with it. At least there really isn’t any flicker to speak of.

I guess you get the sound you expect out of American Gladiators. The music is fitting and the sound effects generally fit the action. The digitized screams were pretty cool as well as the hit effects, and I liked the music during the joust segment. Overall I thought they did a good job here, very lively.

So what’s it like? American Gladiators attempts to recreate the show. You have five events and they certainly picked the best out of all of them; the joust, the wall, human cannonball, powerball, and assault. Joust involves you moving along platforms to face different gladiators within a time limit, sparring with jousting sticks. The wall involves moving while climbing, with various obstacles and gladiators in pursuit. Human cannonball involves grabbing onto a swinging rope on the top of the screen and releasing at the correct moment to knock gladiators off platforms. Powerball involves attempting to get a series of balls into bins around the playing field while avoiding gladiators. The assault involves moving ahead, collecting different weapons, and attempting to shoot a gladiator moving at the top of the screen or just getting to the finish line. Check it out before I give you more details:

American Gladiators’ controls are fluid, but you can’t exactly jump right in to some of the events without experimenting. Once you get them down, it’s quite entertaining. So what about the events? The joust pretty much ends up a button-mashing fest, so there really isn’t any skill to it, but it’s not really easy all the time either. It does feel like mashing in a certain way yields certain results, but I may have been fooling myself. The wall is a real treat, though, it’s a nice mix of speed, precision, and timing. You have to be careful of how you move your limbs in certain locations, while also moving fast to avoid gladiators coming from different directions. Human cannonball takes a lot of skill, especially in later rounds, and is also pretty enjoyable. The timing element makes it interesting, and there’s also a bit of platforming as well as difficult to grab icons for extra challenge.

Powerball is fun the first few seconds and then irritating. The way the gladiators have been programmed is comical; they bounce off of everything and it looks like they’re almost working against gravity in the wrong direction. The play is fine, I suppose, just nothing really interesting in comparison to the actual game that was played on the show. They should have added some tackles and such. Basically, you just run around and try to get the balls in the bins without the gladiators touching you, and when they do your ball just flies off into nothingness and you grab another. This part felt kind of pointless, but I guess they managed to duplicate it as best they could. The assault is the most boring aspect of American Gladiators. It’s just a lame target shooting game when it comes down to it and hardly captures the feel of the show. The tension and precision is all gone. I did like the final challenge, however. Provided you get through everything you get a really tough platforming round to go through that features several obstacles from the show. Nice touch.

American Gladiators, though not original in the sense that it’s based off of something else, is a pretty cool idea for a game if Gametek ever had one. The way they tried, and usually succeeded, in creating the feel of the show is notable and it features some tweaks on some tired-and-true game genres without ruining them.

One good thing going for American Gladiators is the replay value. This game is a lot of fun with two players, and even alone it’s a blast because of the challenge. With the password feature you can also come back to finish it off. If you manage to complete each of the events three times in a row (different and more difficult each time), you go on to the final challenge, a treat in itself that’s well worth the work to get to it. Perfect length too. This is one you can’t beat in a day unless you devoted every waking hour to it, but it’s not too long that you’re looking at an RPG-romp into several months. Well balanced in this category.

American Gladiators is definitely one of Gametek’s best titles for the NES. For fans of the original series, and even those of you who only have watched the newer version, if you’re into retro gaming this is one I suggest you try at least once, especially with a friend. It’s one of those games that, though not perfect, is still just plain fun and a good game to waste some time with.

Graphics: 6
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 7
Creativity: 7
Replay Value/Game Length: 8.5
Final: 7.1
Written by Stan Review Guide