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Old 05-22-2014, 04:07 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Arena: Maze of death

(Vid review for those that don't like to read)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzslYP2lW1E

As stated in previous reviews I grew up on the Nintendo side of the Console Wars and as such missed out on the Sega side of gaming. Recently Iíve been trying to rectify this by trying out what my once mortal enemies were playing back in the day and Iím happy to say that Iím falling in love with the variety of games Sega had to offer. One such game was Arena: Maze of death for the Game Gear.

The game was made by Eden Entertainment Software Ltd in 1996. The only other games this company made were this and Robocop 3 for the SMS and game gear. Itís a shame too, these guys had talent, had the Game Gear not been discontinued they could have easily been a top tier developer for the system.

Story:
In the future an evil T.V. cooperation has made a deal with the government to use its broadcasts to brainwash the populous. You play as Guy Freelander, a one man army and member of a group of freedom fighter whose goal it is to infiltrate the broadcast building and play a video exposing the Governments dirty deal. This premise is really unique but the story is never fully explained in game. In between levels you get a single screen giving you updates on your progression towards your goal but thatís about it. I had to look online to understand why I was shooting random guards, which is a shame as this is a really unique premise and I wish that they had done more with it.

Gameplay:
Arena: Maze of death is an Isometric shooter, with a camera angle similar to that of landstalker for the genesis. Your goal in each stage is to explore around shooting or avoiding enemies until you find a cardkey that opens a door to a new area. You repeat this until you reach the end of the stage and move on to the next level. Each area encourages you to explore and backtrack as sometimes hidden items and power ups appear if certain circumstances are met, like killing off a certain number of foes or reaching a certain area.
This emphasis on rewarding you for exploring every nook and cranny starts off as one of the games strongest points but in long play sessions can become one of its biggest flaws. Shooting things and finding keys is fun but itís the only thing that you do in every stage. There is only one boss and no mini games or real puzzles besides the key cards and a few switches to push to shake things up and as a result the game can become repetitive in long play sessions.

Another odd thing about the levels is the order in which you play them. There are 4-5 different type of stages ranging from warehouses, caves and zombie filled swamps. Most games would have say 1 cave level filled with 4-5 cave stages inside it, but in Arena you will be sent to them in a random order. For example you start in warehouse then progress to swamp, then back to the warehouse, then youíre in a cave, then back to swamp, then the warehouse again etc. I suppose this was done for the sake of variety and in that sense it works but itís still a little odd at first.

Youíre given a number of weapons to dispatch your foes including lasers, grenades, a close range knife, flamethrowers etc. You will need these weapons as your enemies are also varied, including weak generic grunts, to grenade launching robots that can take you out in a few hits. Youíll need to conserve your ammo as later in the game most enemies are able to respawn and often come at you in large numbers. This means you need to think ahead and decide if you want to fight or flee.

Music:
The chip tune music is actually very well done, itís full of energy and gets you pumped for blasting some baddies. Unfortunately like the amount of levels there are only 5-6 tracks in the game and soon begins to become repetitive.

Value:
The length is good for this type of game and took me around 5-6 hours to beat (not counting all the times I died). The game has no save system and instead uses passwords that are obtained every few levels. This adds to the challenge as if you lose all your lives before reaching the password screen you have to start the game from the beginning.

Conclusion:
All in all Arena maze of death for the Sega Game Gear is not a bad game. It can get a little repetitive with long play sessions, so itís best to play in short bursts. Fortunately the Kicking chip tune music, fun gameplay and emphasis on exploring outweigh the games negatives. Iíd love for Sega to revisit this IP and expand the unique story for the current generation of consoles. Itís not genre defining but if youíre looking for a challenging game for the Game Gear give this forgotten gem a try.
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