All gamers have done it. Check any gamer's library and you will find at least one title that was purchased because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Small Arms is the kind of title you would expect to be in someone's library simply due to that impulse. It looks promising on the outside, but the minute you fire up the content it becomes apparent that you are playing a cheap knockoff of a more successful (and enjoyable) game. Small Arms is to Super Smash Brothers as “The Monkees” are to The Beatles; the similarities are there, but you feel totally unsatisfied.
The game moves along at a frantic pace. The problem with this, however, is that it moves along so fast in such a madcap, haphazard fashion that you completely lose track of where your character is or what is going on. This news comes from several players who were all superb Smash Brothers players, so the problem seems to lie in the game's design and not player skill. When you have to constantly be on the lookout for a white circle that points in the direction your character has gone off the screen, the “fun” of the title dries up quick. This doesn't even account for the fact that even when a player's character is on screen it can be hard to tell exactly what the hell is going on and who is doing what to whom. When the game is “not fun” from the door, there leaves little motivation to stick around.
All of the characters in the game are of the “I'm cute n' fuzzy, but I will kick your ass!” variety, the same type of personality found in the “Conker” games. This might have been a little more effective if the characters had a little more detail or exposition to them, but hey, it's a Live Arcade game, right? *Sigh* There is a total of twelve characters to choose from, and eight are available at startup. The selectable menagerie includes cats, chickens, ninjas, trees, robots and dinosaurs. Does anyone else get the feeling that “Oh, my!” should be placed at the end of the last sentence?
Each player character has a primary and secondary weapon. The primary weapon is usually fast but weak and the secondary is usually strong but really slow. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that all the weapons seem ineffectual and need constant replenishment. The entire game's focus is more on weapon reloading than actual firing and combat to such an extent that the only way to progress through the game is to concentrate on nothing else but finding power ups. For a game in this genre, that is unforgivable... this isn't Resident Evil after all. Mix this in with the fact that the general gameplay mechanic isn't much fun and you have a title that needed to bake a little while longer in the developer's oven.
The one saving grace of the game is its multiplayer “battle” mode. Up to four players can all go at it at once, either locally or over Xbox Live. While this mode does seem to breathe a little lost life into the game, as soon as your character gets shoved off-screen you'll be cursing at the controller again. One step forward, two back.
The graphics are pretty sharp and detailed for a Live Arcade title, but in a cartoony sort of way with all kinds of shiny metallic objects and things that “go boom” real “pretty-like.” The sound effects are adequate and the music does its job, but it would have been nice to see some of these characters talk or emote a little bit, even if just for laughs.
Even though this title is only a $10 Live Arcade release, it really seems to be a stretch to recommend anyone spend their money. This is compounded even further by the fact that these days you could find a used copy of Super Smash Brothers Melee for about ten dollars if you looked hard enough, and by doing so have a much better experience with the same type of critters and gameplay.