The player is an armor-clad warrior in a featureless abstract cyberscape, where the goal is to survive the six rounds of the Battle Pyramid. Drop off the swinging Catapult crane into the pit, bring down the Rain of Terror, slingshot around the upper playfield ramp, and build up the Cataclysm bonus. Synchronize the left and right sides for Attack Mode, advance the WEAPON and DOUBLE powers for greater scores, then spell M-U-L-T-I to start a two-ball multiball. If you can survive the Pyramid, proceed to the Beast Challenge and behead the three-headed monster, and become recognized as a Beast Slayer.
In spite of the sketchy artwork and the Cliche-loaded premise, Gladiators has attracted a fair number of fans for its fast, flowing action and intense gameplay. While not a classic by any means, this is a solid game that's easy for beginners to pick up and provides satisfying game sessions.
According to designer Jon Norris, this was originally intended to be a pinball based on The Legend of Zelda, to be released after the Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. Mushroom World tables. Midway through development, Gottlieb had an agreement for the American Gladiators license on the condition that they have a game released quickly. This pin was rethemed and reprogrammed to match, but the deal fell through; without time to revert the game to Zelda, it was decided to release it as Gladiators.
A digital version of Gladiators is available for The Pinball Arcade.
The Gladiators pinball demonstrates the following tropes:
- Anti-Frustration Feature:
- The game has a ten-second ball saver at the start of each ball.
- Holding both flipper buttons stops the bumpers from firing, which helps if a pinball is trapped there and a timed mode has started.
- Cyberspace: The Gladiator arena, with a featureless grid for terrain and simple geometric pyramids for landmarks.
- Death from Above: Fireballs can be seen falling from the sky.
- Epic Flail: The weapon of choice for the female gladiators.
- Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: The gladiators wear Power Armor that cover their entire bodies, but leave their heads exposed.
- Hydra Problem: Defeating the Beast requires attacking its heads (saucers) in a specific order.
- It's Raining Men: Drop from the swinging Catapult and try to land into the pit.
- One-Way Visor: The male gladiator on the playfield is wearing one.
- Our Dragons Are Different: The Beast is a green, three-headed flying dragon.
- Power Armor
- Score Multiplier:
- Sinking the ball into the Abyss twice increases the multiplier for the next Pyramid Round, up to 6x.
- Spelling DOUBLE doubles all subsequent scores for the current ball.
- At the end of the game, an extra letter in DOUBLE is awarded, and completing the word doubles the player's score for the entire game.
- Space Clothes: All of the contestants are wearing glowing orange Power Armor.
- Spelling Bonus: M-U-L-T-I starts a two-ball multiball mode, while W-E-A-P-O-N lets the player choose a bonus and D-O-U-B-L-E provides double scores.
- Skill Shot: Launch the ball into the Mystery Saucer for one of three bonuses.
- Sword Fight: "Blade Fight", one of the six rounds.
- Timed Mission: Many of the Rounds and events.
- Wizard Mode: "The Beast Challenge", where the player must shoot three different saucers in a specific order to behead the dragon.