1985’s Gauntlet is often remembered for its in-game narration, where a Texas Instruments speech synthesizer would state the condition of each player. Notoriously, the announcer would also divulge which character inadvertently shot the health-replenishing food, planting the seeds for discontent between adventuring teams. But Gauntlet had another noteworthy element that wasn’t as renowned. Each dungeon was teaming with enemies, and there was a subtle sense of satisfaction of mowing down these opponents, and destroying the monster generators capable of producing more of these foes.
While modern dungeon crawls like the Diablo series still incorporate the mechanic, all too often the focus is on loot acquisition, undermining the fulfilment of thinning out hallways overflowing with antagonistic hordes. Released in 2013 on PCs, Crackshell’s Hammerwatch reverted to the simplicity of Gauntlet’s straightforward dungeon-crawls, permitting parties of four to clean adversity from each alcove. Recently, the title has been ported to the Nintendo Switch. While there are a few minor issues with the adaptation, Hammerwatch’s gameplay has pleasingly been left intact.
Much like the Ed Logg’s classic coin-op, Hammerwatch permits players to select from a variety of seven distinct classes. Individualists or those seeking an easier level of challenge should opt for the Ranger or Sorcerer. Armed with either a bow or staff, both characters excel at defeating opponents before they come too close. The Wizard and Priest also extens ranged attacks, but they sacrifice distance for an area-of-effect attack. For those seeking more of a challenge, Hammerwatch supplies several melee-based members, from a Paladin, Warlock, to Thief. While make tackling crowds more difficult, each has an exceptionally powerful secondary that helps to create a sense of balance.
For some, Hammerwatch sense of progression might be a bit too plodding, with high prices attached to the acquisition of new skills. Initially, characters are offering a combo multiplier, which kicks in after defeating ten or more enemies in rapid succession. At first, this increases your damage output, but later you’ll be able to automatically trigger other perks, like gradually replacing any lost hit points when the multiplier is active. Unsurprisingly, other store fronts scattered around the levels offer benefits like raising your health cap or quickening the refill speed for your Mana gauge- which is expended when triggering your secondary abilities.
Moving away from the procedurally-generated stages of most dungeon crawls, Hammerwatch’s floors are filled with switches and simple puzzles. And while it’s easy to get lost in some of the voluminous spaces, an overlay map is just a button press away. The decision for pre-made stages provides to be prudent, allowing for the occasional passage that can funnel with foes, or the glance of a currency-filled area that seems just out direct reach, stirring exploration. The selection of creatures is just as adept, with monster form mutating as you delve deeper. Pleasingly, the game telegraphs danger proficiently, tasking players with noticing cavities in the ground, or signaling damage radius for a falling stalactite. Boss battles are significantly tougher than standard foes, and while they are challenging, they rarely feel unfair.
Unsurprisingly, the inclusion of user-generated stages didn’t make it in to the Switch version of Hammerwatch, but on the upside, other supplementary material is included. Beyond the Castle Hammerwatch campaign, the download also includes a separate Temple of the Sun adventure, as well as Survival and Hero Defense modes, extending a healthy amount of content. Pleasingly, the game also extends an agreeable number of modifiers, with non-compulsory options like removing mana regeneration and HP regeneration. Then, there’s also the control scheme which permits players to use a twin stick approach that proves to be exceedingly effective.
But a couple of issues mar the journey onto Nintendo’s hybrid. Without any kind of option for gamma adjustment, it can be rather difficult to see dark colored monsters when playing outside. Load times can be longer, with waits for game starts sporadically longer than a half-minute. Currently, there’s no online play, but the game promises an upcoming patch to rectify that omission. To a lesser extent there are also some rather inconsequential oddities. Venturing near a door causes a disorienting load of the next level, while the indicator for combos nearly as notable as the PC version. Then there’s the soundtrack, which can converge on magnificence, but has some truly jarring transitions between tracks.
Thankfully, none of these issues are a deal breaker and the Switch version of Hammerwatch is a commendable adaption of the PC title. While the game is exponentially better with friends, even individual who appreciate old-fashioned, overhead dungeon crawls should have a lot of fun with the title. If you’re looking for a Switch title that captures the delight of Gauntlet or early Diablo games, Hammerwatch is currently your best bet.
Hammerwatch was played on the Nintendo Switch with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: December 14th, 2017
Price: $9.99 via Nintendo eShop