Microsoft is out to prove that Super Smash Bros. isn't the only four-player fighting game in town. It is proving this with Small Arms, a new Xbox Live Arcade game that is in a similar vein from developer Gastronaut. Small Arms offers eight playable characters right off the bat, with another four that can be unlocked as you play. However, these aren't the cuddly sort of characters you'd see in Smash Bros. We played as Pector el Pollo, a mutant chicken and former Mexican wrestler with a pretty obvious mean streak. Our opponent was Fox Claw, a sassy, anthropomorphized female fox that wielded a katana. The other characters on display appeared to be similarly twisted.
Small Arms' core brawling seems simple enough. You've got standard melee attacks and a high-flying jump that will get you up to the various platforms in the game's multilevel arenas. Each character also seems to have a standardized projectile attack; Pector wielded a flamethrower, while a pig character used a sniper rifle. Apparently, there will be other weapons you can pick up during a match because we saw Fox Claw use a giant blaster that fired a green energy bolt at one point. A secondary meter underneath your health bar seemed to serve as ammo, but we didn't notice if it recharged automatically or if you'd have to pick up extra ammo (though we'd hope for the former).
The action seems fairly simple in Small Arms. For an XBLA game, however, we were surprised at how nice it looked. The fully 3D graphics feature a good degree of geometric detail, with some nice effects like shiny rocks on the waterfall level. The game seemed to be running at a solid 60 frames per second (though we only played one-on-one against the computer). The camera would also pull out to show nearly the entire level when the characters moved far apart, with nary a hitch.
At the outset, it looks like you'll have access to the one-player mission mode and a marathon mode that lets you keep fighting CPU opponents. A shooting gallery mode unlocked after several matches in the mission mode, so it seems like there will be plenty of extra content to acquire in the game as you move through the single-player portion. Of course, the real action is in the online battle mode. In this mode, four players can all fight it out at once, though the four-player mode wasn't available during our demo. Small Arms nevertheless looks like it'll be a solid addition to the Live Arcade lineup especially because the service doesn't have a lot of games with online support for more than two players.