Review: American Gladiators (NES)

This game is a spinoff from the first time this television show aired. This sports/action game get’s players to pit themselves against the Gladiators as they go through the 5 various rounds before finally making it into a sort of Eliminator round. We look at whether or not this particular game is worth playing these days.

There were numerous video game versions of the television show American Gladiators. This NES version was released in 1991.

The game features 6 games that was found in the original TV series. There was joust, human cannonball, the wall, assault, powerball, and the eliminator.

Assault essentially pits you against a gladiator in a wheeled vehicle. You must complete one of the two objectives in this game to win. You can simply run all the way up to the end of the course and cross the finish line without losing all of your health. Alternatively, you can simply defeat the gladiator using the weapons that dot the landscape, ready for you to pick up and use. This only vaguely resembles the actual event in the TV series (Gladiators were typically stationary at the end of the course in the TV show). One strategy is to simply use the boxes as cover as the shots fired by the gladiator can’t get penetrate the boxes. Gladiators are always situated at the top of the screen and move back as you move up. Personally, I found this particular event interesting and somewhat challenging, but one of the most repetitive as you work your way through the game. Outside of an alternative color scheme and an increase in difficulty, there’s really little variation between the rounds.

Joust has some resemblance to the actual event. You are standing on one platform while the gladiator is standing on the platform next to yours. Knock him back enough times and he’ll fall into the water. If you get knocked back enough times, you fall in the water. Between rounds, you jump from one platform to another to face off against the next gladiator. Sometimes, a flashing joust stick will fly up on the screen. If you catch it, you can use this particularly powerful joust stick against your next foe, sometimes knocking him off in a few well placed hits. I found this particular event to be the least fun because it’s simply button mashing more than anything else. You can block, strike high, medium, or low. After that, it’s just navigating a simple stepping stones section to the next match until you win the round. It get’s harder and the color scheme changes, but there’s really little else to this particular event.

Wall was interesting. Each Wall event you encounter is different with increasingly difficult obstacles to overcome (leading up to very widely spaced handholds, forcing you to have to execute very precise movements or else you’ll simply fall off the wall again). You have to avoid the gladiators that randomly appear, sometimes falling off from above in an effort to try and knock you off on the way down. If you collect the flashing hand, you are able to move around very quickly for a brief period of time, often outpacing the gladiators in the process depending on how you use it. One strategy is to exploit the fact that the gladiators always move directly towards you. Simply place yourself in such a way that an obstacle separates you and a gladiator and watch the gladiator hit the obstacle and fall off with little effort. I found this event to be more of a puzzle solving event as you navigate through. In the beginning rounds, it’s just a wide open field, causing you to simply try and avoid the gladiators for the most part, but the obstacles get larger in the later rounds.

Powerball was definitely the game that most closely resembled what you saw on TV. There are five pods situated in an “X” formation. At both the bottom and top of the course, there are bins where you collect balls. The objective is to get a ball in each of the pods. If you get one in all of the pods, you get a free life. There is a very limited amount of time to accomplish this and I never got more than one free life, but with some luck and effort, I was able to get a free life almost every time. If you come in contact with a gladiator with a ball in hand, the ball will get knocked out of your hands, forcing you to retrieve another ball at the opposite end of the course. The zones where the ball bins are located are safe zones for you as the gladiators cannot cross into them. I found that this was probably the best event in the game since you can really form some strategies as you race against the clock.

Human cannonball is a bit like joust in that it involves platforms. You have to jump from your starting position and catch the swinging rope as it swings back and forth. Once on the rope, you have to jump off at the right time to knock the gladiator off of his platform. Sometimes, the gladiator will be able to block you and cause you to simply fall into the water, so precise timing is critical. Sometimes, the platform the gladiator is on is moving up and down. Sometimes, the swinging rope moves back and forth, making it particularly difficult to time your jumps. On rare occasions, you’ll find a flashing trophy at the top of the rope. Climb up to the top of the rope and touch it, you’ll get a free life. In earlier rounds, I found this game to be interesting as it was a case of timing. Unfortunately, in later rounds, it’s set up in such a way that it’s more luck that helps you win more than skill.

You compete in the above five events in a series of rounds. If you complete all of the rounds in the game, you’ll advance to the 6th game – the eliminator. Like the actual TV version, the eliminator is basically an obstacle course you race to complete. You’ll have balls being launched at you and you have to jump over gaps, jump from platform to platform, use handbikes, and time your jumps on ziplines to eventually complete the course. If you manage to complete the course, you win the game.

In my research on this game, opinion, I found, was divided. Some reviews said that this game was fun and exciting while others referred to the game as simply awful and unplayable. I think that really depends on what events you are playing. Some events are not that great (joust being an example). Other events are decent (like powerball). So, overall, I found this game to be somewhere in the middle – mediocre. It’s definitely something I wouldn’t play over and over again, but I can’t say playing this game was a totally awful experience either.

Graphically, this game lags by a few years. You’d expect this game to be produced somewhere in the mid 1980’s, but since this was made in 1991, I have to say, the graphics weren’t exactly up to par with what was available at the time of release. It’s fair to say that you could expect more in the graphics department. There is some interesting still shots which helped, but I expect more than just decent looking stills in a game. The good news is that the overall color scheme changes as you advance between rounds. In that case, there is variety involved, but the graphics weren’t really good enough to be passable in this area.

The sound department was a mixed bag. The sound effects were decent with the use of samples in the sound effects. In fact, I’d say that the sound effects used in this game elevated this game in a good effort to make up for the deficiencies found throughout the game. Unfortunately, the music was nothing to really brag about. There was samples of an electric guitar amongst a few other interesting audio features throughout the game, but it was poorly arranged, making this game seem more like a jumbled mess of sound.

Overall, this game will provide you with a few hours of interesting entertainment, but it’s one of those games that you play through once and forget about it after. I can see a game like this give players an interesting experience, but a game needs more than just potential to provide gamers with a good experience. Might be worth checking out for those curios to see how a game translation of a TV series worked out, but little else. There are better games out there to be had.


Furthest point in game: Completed the game.

General gameplay: 15/25
Replay value: 2/10
Graphics: 5/10
Audio: 2/5

Overall rating: 48%

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