With the click-click-click of my X and Square buttons as a soundtrack, I'm fighting off swarms of demon hordes while racking up experience points and nibbling on food whenever my health gets too low. (Many times I am disgustingly wasteful, littering the ground with dozens of cheeses I'll never need). Sometimes there's a switch to pull or a boss to fight, but mostly I just hold my own against monsters that keep coming at me like George Romero's zombies.

And I'm having fun.

Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows is the newest incarnation of the series Tengen started all those years ago. A hack-and-slash with a dash of role-playing game (RPG) for spice, it follows four heroes as they battle the six advisors of the Emperor who betrayed them. I can play as any of the four heroes—Warrior, Wizard, Elf and Valkyrie.

Like many combo-based games (God of War or, dear God, Van Helsing), players "purchase" their fighters' attacks at the end of each stage. They can also allocate points to three different skills: Health, Damage and Mana Regen. How many points we get depends on how much "leveling up" we have done. If I've amassed enough experience points to raise my character four levels in a stage, I get four skill points to distribute.

This system makes for interesting strategy options. Do I destroy the glowing green generators that spawn the monsters and clear the way of enemies to move on, or do I keep killing until I raise enough levels to max out my health bar? It's not really a new dilemma, but in Seven Sorrows I'm fighting off swarms of creatures who, essentially won't give me a break. Monster-hunting for experience points in this game feels like holding my breath underwater: I'm pushing myself until I can't stand it anymore.

Fortunately, all these monster-swarms don't tax the Playstation 2 processor any. There's no slowdown whatsoever, and there's even enough room left for creatures to crumple fluidly when they die. No, there's not much differentiation between the enemies, but they move much more smoothly than I hoped they would. And this smoothness allows the game to keep up with its own frenetic pace.

In fact, Seven Sorrows's pace may be its greatest strength. Although there's a single player mode, this game is really designed for people to play together. Its stages are crammed with action but brief, and never wear out their welcome. The game can be finished in six hours or so—it's perfect for an evening gaming session.

In multiplayer mode, characters wander a stage simultaneously, and at the end their scores are tallied—how many enemies killed, how much damage taken, how many generators destroyed—and whoever's in first place gets extra gold. It's cooperation and competition in equal parts, and twice as enjoyable for that.

Unfortunately, there aren't any customization options available in multiplayer. Players can choose their level of difficulty, but that's it. Then again, Seven Sorrows is a game wherein players do the same thing over and over again. There aren't many options in the gameplay, period.

I tested Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows with several friends (I don't have the equipment to take it online), and we all said the same thing: the game was fun, but a little repetitive and we were glad that the stages weren't too long. One said it seemed designed for gamers a little younger than ourselves—13 or 14 year olds, maybe. Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows is a nice way to kill a few hours when guests are over, but I wouldn't have paid full price for it. Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.

Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk grew up in a small Nebraska town called Papillion. Although she has a nonverbal learning disability that affects her visual-spatial skills (among other things), she's always loved video games. Her first game system was a Commodore Vic-20, which her mom bought at a garage sale for $20. With this little computer Tera learned to write Mad Libs in BASIC, to play chess and to steal gold from Fort Knox.

But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).

Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.
Tera Kirk

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