Even all the way back to the Atari 2600 era, movies were the prime breeding ground for video game ideas. Though many movies have been enhanced and/or butchered on the way to video games, one movie franchise has been a mainstay of every console generation since its inception - Star Wars. As I mentioned in my Porky's review, memory constraints forced developers to limit most movie licensed game levels to one or two scenes from the movie, and Star Wars: Jedi Arena is no exception.
One of two games based on Episode 4: A New Hope, Jedi Arena is based on the scene in the movie when Luke Skywalker was lightsaber training with a remote training droid. Just one person swinging a lightsaber blocking blaster shots would get dull quickly. Therefore Parker Brothers decided to make it competitive by putting a second Jedi with a lightsaber across the screen and letting the players control the blasts coming from the remote. The players' goal is to use their lightsabers to block the blasts from the remote while trying to blast through their opponent's shields and eventually hit the opponent himself.
If that concept sounds familiar, it should. Take away the Star Wars paintjob and you have Warlords. Jedi Arena is two-player Warlords with a Star Wars theme. It's that cut and dry. However, what Jedi Arena lacks in originality, it makes up for in playability for the most part. Warlords always aggravated me whenever I would play alone because all three CPU opponents would be out for my blood even on the easiest settings. Since Jedi Arena is limited to two players instead of four, the challenge is more fair than the three-on-one last stands that I always had to endure in Warlords. However, the controls can be a bit problematic. The paddle knob points your lightsaber for blocking incoming shots while the fire button fires a shot of your own at the opponent. That seems hunky-dory until you realize that your shots fire in the direction that your lightsaber is pointing. Defending and attacking simultaneously becomes a pain, and in two-player contests the winner ends up being the one that stays on the offense the most. At regular intervals, the remote would go berserk and fire random blasts at both players. Sometimes that helps turn the tide of a match, but most of the time the effect is negligible.
The Star Wars paintjob is nice, though. The game is colorful, the beeping rendition of the Star Wars theme is quite good, and the rest of the sound effects work. It feels like a legitimate part of the Star Wars universe (by 1983 standards, anyway).
Star Wars: Jedi Arena may not be the game that fans are looking for these days, but it holds its own as a decent addition to the Atari 2600 library. It's not original by any means, but it's playable and can be enjoyed in small doses. As long as you don't go into it expecting to relive the duel between Obi-Wan and Vader, you can get some enjoyment from Jedi Arena. Just don't try to put the blast shield down.
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