Small Arms delivers a frenzy of fun and frantic fighting, all for just 800 Microsoft Points.
Small Arms has a plot, but it has absolutely no relevance to the story (its tacked on in the help and options menu). Basically, a mad-professor type began conducting some controversial experiments. The result was a group of dangerous mutant beings. In order to protect everyone from these mutants, they were scattered across time and were never heard from again. Until now, that is.
There is an initial cast of eight characters, with four more available to unlock. They range from an assassin pig named Mr. Truffles to a deranged mutant tree called Billy Ray Logg. Although there is little to no story to back the characters up, the sheer insanity of the cast gives them some charm.
When the combat begins, you will find yourself in one of many arenas that have a very Smash Bros. The combat is a little more different to the Nintendo brawler. The focus is on long-range projectile combat, although there is a weak melee attack if you run out of ammo. You have full 360 degrees control over your aim thanks to the right analog stick, and it is applied well. It does take a little getting used to aiming with the stick, but it feels comfortable once you do.
Each of the twelve characters has a unique weapon with different primary and secondary fire. The range of weapons is as broad as the character cast. You'll be able to wield katanas, flamethrowers, sniper rifles and more. The great thing about Small Arms is the ability to switch weapons mid-battle. You might choose Fox Claw, who wields the katana by default. If the melee range attacks of the blade aren't working for you, you can just as easily pick up a crossbow to cater for your projectile needs. This ability to change your weapon on the fly really adds to the fun, and there is always a scramble for a new gun that drops onto the field.
Despite this, the combat could have been a little more fleshed out. Its clear that Small Arms is all about the guns, but a more developed close-combat system would have worked wonders. Including block and throw manoeuvres would have been very easy to do, and would have added a lot more depth to the game.
The level design is generally very good. There are a lot of staggered platforms in each level to jump to, and many of the levels have interactive elements to them. The space station stage features a series of lifts and tunnels for quick access to the top and bottom of the arena. There are also levels where the moving screen dictates the pace. The tornado level is a prime example of this; you need to jump from platform to platform and keep up with the screen, all in the middle of a tornado! The only complaint you could have is that some of the stages feel very cramped. The smaller stages are quick paced and very enjoyable, but it would have been nice to see some more expansive levels for a change of pace.
The game sports a range of single player modes, as well as full Xbox Live support. Mission mode pits you up against many of the Small Arms cast, ranging from one-on-one to one-on-three matches. Challenge mode is similar to a typical survival mode; enemies keep on coming and toy have to survive for as long as possible. You get health drops every so often to help you keep going. Both these modes are very challenging, particularly the latter. It'll take some practise to get top scores here. There is also a shooting range game you can unlock after completing mission mode. You'll probably play it once or twice just for the achievement.
The real attraction is the online support, which is absolutely fantastic. You can participate in ranked and un-ranked matches with up to three other people. It plays just like the offline game; lag is virtually non-existent. Small Arms retains its fast and furious gameplay even in the online arena. Its very easy to join or create a session, particularly as you can join a session in the middle of a match. A stat-tracker profile and leaderboards are also included, as you'd expect. If you'd rather play against your mates offline, you can set up a four-player match from one Xbox. The nature of the game means there is no split-screen and everyone shares the same screen.
Visually, Small Arms is by far the best looking game on the Arcade. The quality of the 3D character models is unparalleled, as are the backdrops for the levels. All the characters look great, whether they be homicidal trees or pig-faced assassins in Pulp Fiction-style suits. There is a good range of arena backgrounds, ranging from the bright bubbling volcano to the intense tornado backdrop. The audio does its job, nothing more and nothing less. All the characters let out a battle cry when they attack, or when they are on the end of beating. The background music is decent too, but you will be too busy focusing on the action to give it much attention.
Achieving the full gamerscore for Small Arms will be quite a feat. After you get the token easy achievements, good luck with the survive fifty in challenge mode achievement. Gastronaut have made history with one of their achievements; the six degrees of Small Arms. Although worth no gamerscore points, the achievement is contagious for lack of batter word. The developers start with it, and pass it on to people they play, and so on and so forth.
Small Arms is a great example of what an Xbox Live Arcade game should be: fun, easy to play and fantastic online support. Although the melee combat could have been developed further and there could have been some larger levels, Small Arms is a must-play for all gamers on Xbox Live.