The game’s full North American title is Arena: Maze of Death, but it was released as just Arena in Europe so that’s what I’m going to call it. It’s an isometric shoot ’em up with you playing a “pro-democratic freedom fighter” called Guy Freelander who must fight his way through a variety of industrial locations in order to reach a television station to broadcast proof of an evil corporation’s wrongdoings.
Arena is a relatively simple shooter with scrolling landscapes and a maze of rooms and hazards to negotiate. There are laser barriers; patrolling robot sentries; pits (or swamp) that you can fall into and die; floating platforms, and switches that will open certain doors or turn some hazards off. Each level is also populated with enemies that will shoot at you and chase you, and the basic aim is to survive and collect key cards to open the exit to the next stage. Some keycards are located behind barrels which you can only get to if you blast away the barrels first.
You begin the game with a standard machine gun but can find extra weapons as you explore. All the weapons have limited ammo and these can be topped-up by collecting more of the same weapon. Pressing Start brings up a screen where you can select your weapons and see your health status.
Arena is a very simple game, but is fun to play for a while. You’ll probably realise quite quickly that guards re-spawn after five seconds, so it seems pointless actually killing them, unless they’re blocking your way. So you end up running rings around enemies for most of the game (making this a dodge ’em up, rather than a shoot ’em up).
Graphically, Arena is very good. It reminds me a bit of the classic Shadowrun on the SNES, but without the RPG elements. Funky music also plays during the action and simple cut scenes punctuate the levels. The game gives you a password every four stages so that you don’t have to go through them all again.
Arena was developed by British company Eden Entertainment Software and published exclusively for the Game Gear by Sega in 1996.