The NES version varied greatly from the others as well as the game show itself in that the events were morphed into side-scrolling and overhead mini-levels that only partially resembled the real-life events.
Each joust event involved four different gladiator battles atop platforms which needed to be won, with a series of joust platforms to be jumped across in between battles.
Human Cannonball also required four gladiators to be beaten with perfectly-timed leaps off the rope while the gladiator's platform elevated up and down, making the task that much more difficult. In this event and the Joust, Gladiators screamed gratuitously (and often humorously) as they were knocked off the platforms.
The Wall featured numerous screenfulls of handholds and footholds with various obstacles, walls, floors and occasional treacherous stretches featuring empty spaces with very few handholds to navigate in order to advance. The gladiators were plentiful and attacked at different points in the wall level. They also moved twice as fast as the character. The wall was a particularly tough event due to its difficult controls that involved repeated rhythmic tapping of the a and b buttons with the directional pad to simulate the movement of the left and right hands to different handholds.
Assault featured a battle with a gladiator in a moving target at the top of the screen (unlike the stationary gladiator in the television series) which took between three and six successful hits to subdue, while the player's character could absorb three before being defeated.
The most accurate representation of any event in the game was Powerball, an event in which a player could not lose a 'life' as he or she could in any other event, but only gain a 1UP if the player evaded the three gladiators and scored a ball in each of the five baskets. (Players could also earn 2 more extra lives if they could accomplish the task again in the same time limit, which decreased between levels.)
The eliminator consisted of I-beams, in which a player jumped from one shotgun-like platform to the next, with different platforms varying greatly in height and length. Medicine balls were constantly arcing up from the bottom of the screen towards the player, attempting to knock the contender back and possibly off the I-beams to the ground below, thus ending the player's run. The player then jumped to a handbike which he or she had to navigate back and forth around more medicine balls thrown through the air. This continued after the first handbike as the player then was made to run and jump across many straight and acutely angled conveyor belts while the medicine balls continued to stream down. This made being hit that much more difficult to recover from because the direction of the conveyor belts often added to the force of being hit with a medicine ball. After navigating a second handbike, the medicine balls cease and the player drops onto a zip line moving down and across the screen to the right. This zip line crosses a second zip line going in the opposite angle in which the player must perfectly time his release to land on the following line. This trend continues for several more successive lines, each moving faster than the previous until the player finally lands on a platform after grabbing the 9th zip line, signifying victory.
By the time American Gladiators was released for the SNES, the developers had changed the game to a more faithful copy of the television series. The game offered a two-player mode that alternated between simultaneous and alternating play based on the event. There was also a tournament mode where up to 16 players (8 male and 8 females), could face off, with any missing slots filled in by computer players.
The events from the previous game were joined by Atlasphere, and were always played in the following order: Assault, Human Cannonball, Atlasphere, Joust, Powerball, and The Wall. Although the game was a more faithful interpretation of American Gladiators, adjustments were made as there had been in the NES version. They were:
- Assault: 1 point per weapon fired, five for hitting the outer rim of the target, 10 for hitting the bullseye (although a player could never see where on the target they hit)
- Human Cannonball: One swing against one Gladiator, ten points if successful.
- Atlasphere: 1 point awarded per goal
- Joust: 45 seconds, object was to drain opponent's power completely instead of knocking them off the platform
- Powerball: 60 seconds, 1 point per outer cylinder goal, 2 points per center cylinder goal
- The Wall: 30 seconds, contender had a five second head start against Gladiator
The Eliminator in this game combined elements of the first two seasons' courses. The treadmill run and handbike were the first two obstacles, followed by a run across the balance beam through a gauntlet of what appeared to be blocking pads (mimicking the first season course's attempt at the same thing, but using medicine balls instead). The cargo net climb and zipline were next, followed by the choice of a door which may or may not have had a Gladiator behind it.
The player had 60 seconds to complete the course and any fall immediately deducted 10 seconds from whatever time the player had left at that particular point. The player that reached the finish line first, regardless of time penalties, received 10 points and the second place player received 5. If an Eliminator ended with a tie score, the players ran the course again to break the tie.