Mean Arenas (I.C.E. game, Commodore Amiga, 1994) reviewed by AlanG!

Some games are instantly impressive. I’m sure you know the kind of thing. When you first sat down to play the likes of: The Chaos Engine, Cannon Fodder, The Settlers or Speedball 2, you knew very quickly that you wouldn’t be disappointed. These were games put together with love and panache, carrying a veneer of quality that is simply unmistakable. You may be dazzled by technical wizardry, wowed by sumptuous graphics, delighted by stellar sound or drawn in by beautifully fashioned atmosphere.

Mean Arenas has none of these things. This is certainly a game that hides its light under a bushel. So first impressions aren’t great, but luckily it does have that one secret ingredient that is essential for any game. Gameplay. It has gameplay in spades and that pretty much saves it.

Mean Arenas is a Pacman clone. Except there is no Pacman and there are no ghosts. But despite the lack of the main participants from the 1980 arcade classic, there are still clear similarities between the games. For a start, it is a 2-D top down maze game. The premise is that you are appearing on a television show, with the ‘Arena’ being a labyrinth, filled with gold coins that you have to collect, while avoiding the attentions of various monsters determined to thwart your efforts. Complete a level and you progress to a new arena in true Pacman style. There are twenty-two arenas spread across four ‘zones’: Robo Zone, Dungeon Zone, Rainbow Zone and Starship Zone. There is more to do than just collect coins and avoid baddies though. There are lasers, bombs, teleports, switches, keys, secret passages and more. You can also collect bonus letters which, when complete, award extra lives. This is Pacman on steroids and it is actually a lot of fun.

Each attempt is introduced by two TV presenters, one a large brash American, the other a small nerdy character, but their attempt at a slick link is always interrupted by something going wrong, such as the studio falling apart behind them or the ‘nerd’ presenter breaking wind or wiggling his ears. It sounds a bit rubbish and in truth it is a fairly crass attempt at humour, but to be fair when I first played this as a much younger and (arguably) less mature human being I found them hilarious!

The graphics are adequate rather than impressive. The sound for the most part does what is necessary but mention should go to Chris Barrie (of Red Dwarf fame) who I am convinced provides the voiceovers (but I can find no reference to this online). The elongated: “Maaaaarvellous” when you complete a level always makes you smile! Completion of an arena rewards you with a level code which means you don’t have to play through from the start every time.

There isn’t much more to say. It’s a fairly average looking maze game which doesn’t impress in any particular technical department. But here’s the thing. I have played technically impressive games that get boring very quickly. This doesn’t get boring quickly at all, because it is fun. Fun is the key. That, by and large, is why I load a game up. I want to enjoy myself. I enjoyed myself playing Mean Arenas. There are far more technically impressive games out there so it won’t blow you away, but you will find yourself coming back to it long after some of the more polished titles have been put away.

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AG 24/05/2018

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