Nerf ArenaBlast has an interesting concept. Ostensibly a family-friendly version of multiplayer combat games like Quake III: Arena and Unreal Tournament, Nerf ArenaBlast replaces rocket launchers and chain guns with foam-rubber-firing alternatives and trades the darkened hallways and desolate space stations of its unabashedly violent counterparts for serene forest settings and brightly lit corridors. But the designers obviously wanted to make something more than just Gibbing for Junior. While it won't meet the criteria of either concerned parents or frag-hungry gamers, the game's well-designed levels and novel game types make it a fun alternative to its more visceral inspirations.
There are three game types in Nerf ArenaBlast. PointBlast is similar to a standard deathmatch, sans the death. Your goal is simply to accumulate more points than your opponents. To do this, you must shoot them with your arsenal of Nerf weapons. However, unlike in typical deathmatching, in PointBlast your victims leave behind point tokens, which you must collect to get a high score. Anyone can grab a point token, so this lets even the worst shots do well, as long as they keep on their toes. You can also gain bonus points through skillful marksmanship; shooting targets hidden throughout levels will add to your point total just as direct hits to the opponent's chestplate will give you bonus points.
The second game, BallBlast, combines PointBlast with a strategic element. Seven balls are strewn about a level, and your objective is to collect these balls and fire them into one of the goals on the level. You can still earn points by taking down your opponents, but you can only win when all seven balls are in the goal. SpeedBlast is the last game type, and it requires you to race your opponents through a level to seven flag points. The first to hit all seven flags wins. To progress through the single-player game, you must score in the top three in all three gamfes in an arena. At this point, the next arena will become available.
The weapons in Nerf ArenaBlast are based on the popular Nerf toy guns. While the names and ammo are certainly Nerf-like, they almost directly correspond to the typical arsenal of most first-person shooters. For instance, the Triple Strike is just a rocket launcher, the Ballzooka is a dead ringer for a grenade launcher, and the Whomper is a superweapon that looks and fires suspiciously like Quake II's BFG. Each weapon also has an alternate mode of fire, which uses more ammo but causes more damage.Nerf ArenaBlast is based on the impressive Unreal engine, and it shows. The game plays fast, and the levels look good. But you won't mistake ArenaBlast's computer opponents for Unreal's quick-moving Skaarj warriors. These guys and gals are surprisingly easy opponents. And while you might expect this, considering the game is intended for all ages, the fact that your opponents will often get stuck in ridiculous little two-steps, moving back and forth without firing or even responding to your repeated foam poundings, is disappointing at times. This is especially problematic in SpeedBlast games, where merely running in a straight line often seems like a huge problem for the computer.
The lack of challenge provided by the computer wouldn't be too much of a concern if playing online were an easier task. That's not to imply it isn't easy to connect - so long as you have your Internet connection active, selecting a server and joining a game is simple. But actually finding servers may prove a problem - as of this writing, only a few servers are ever available at a given time, and these are mostly demo servers unavailable to players who actually own the full game. Hasbro Interactive should have set up more servers to make finding online competition less difficult.
However, the biggest problem with Nerf ArenaBlast is that the game isn't all that family friendly. While it is certainly less gory than other games, it still displays semiviolent success messages whenever you defeat an opponent. Simply because there isn't any blood doesn't mean that the gunplay isn't aggressively competitive.
As such, Nerf ArenaBlast walks a strange line. It tries to appeal to both shooter fans and a society concerned with violence in games, but it falls a bit short on both fronts. But despite this problem, it's a really fun game. Only overly concerned parents will find fault with the game's good-natured combat, and only those who need to see their opponents explode again and again will find it too childish. If only the game had better artificial intelligence and better support online, it would really be a blast.