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post #1 of 1 (permalink) Old 11-27-2006, 06:03 PM Thread Starter
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Xbox 360: Small Arms Review

November 27, 2006 - It took a full year from the release of Geometry Wars for the Xbox Live Arcade to receive another original title that made me sit up and take notice. Small Arms may be a Smash Brothers clone that doesn't quite live up to its inspiration, but that doesn't mean it isn't a heck of a lot of fun. It's simple to pick up and play, has a great multiplayer online game, looks fantastic with a style all its own, and clocks in at just 800 Microsoft points ($10 USD). This is what the Xbox Live Arcade was meant for.

Small Arms is essentially Super Smash Brothers with guns. It certainly isn't as feature rich as its older Nintendo developed cousin, but the gameplay is relatively deep for a low priced download. Combat takes place on a two dimensional plane rife with platforms, weapons and pits. The goal, of course, is to knock out your opponents as many times as you can without succumbing to the bullets tearing your way. Falling into a pit counts as a suicide and you get a point for delivering the final blow on an opponent. At the end, whoever has the most points is declared the winner.

Each gun has a primary and alternate fire with the alternate generally being more destructive and more draining on the weapon's battery. After you've fired enough shots to wipe out your battery, you'll have to search for either a new weapon or battery from one of the spawn points on the map. Each trigger on the controller shoots one of the modes of fire, while motion is mapped to the left analog stick and weapon aim to the right. This play style and control set up is incredibly easy to get into and is exactly what you'd hope for out of an arcade style game.

The aiming system takes about 5 minutes to get used to.
There are 8 stages in Small Arms that have enough variety to allow for different playing styles to dominate in specific settings. The simplest stages feature static backgrounds where the only real environmental interaction comes from hopping around on ledges or riding elevators. Then there are the more elaborate stages, some of which have excellent design. Our favorite is the tornado stage. Here, the battle takes place atop everything from building scraps to school buses as they tear around the vortex. In stages like this, the screen is constantly scrolling, forcing players to use their platforming skills to keep from falling off into the abyss, all the while trying to aim their guns at each other. While the stages look cool and provide for some good brawling locations, there aren't any environmental traps or weapons to take advantage of.

There's a lot of fun to be had with Small Arms, but it fails to generate the levels of excitement that other classic brawlers do (see Powerstone or Smash Brothers). The major problem with Small Arms is that, although each character has their own unique starting weapon, other players have access to these armaments as well through in-game pickups. There aren't any extra weapons outside of those that other characters start with or bonus power-ups to be found. Both of these would have made everything more hectic and lively as they can change the pace of the game at a moments notice. This also makes it so that aside from the initial weapon and appearance, there isn't a heck of a lot to differentiate one character from another. With the ability to pick up another character's weapon at any time you find that, unless you're dying an excessive number of times, your choice of character isn't all that important.

Although the weapon system hurts the idea of characters having a unique feel, their look does a great job making up for it. Each character has a style that is a nice blend of cuddly and badass that lends well to the fun, yet destructive, gameplay. Any time we're given the opportunity to play as a flame throwing, rocket launching mutant chicken named Pector El Pollo is a good time.

Small Arms is big on flash.
There are 12 characters in total with four of them only unlockable through playing the single player mission mode. This mode doesn't feel any different from the multiplayer game except that it pits every computer controlled character against you -- something that can end up being quite challenging. Alongside the mission mode, there is one for training, a challenge mode where you continuously fight a never ending string of enemies, and a simple shooting range.

Although the single player experience is fairly meaty, it doesn't match up to the fun you can have in a big brawl. Small Arms can be played offline or on with up to four players. You want to play with four players. The online experience is amongst the best yet on the Xbox Live Arcade. In all of the matches we've played, we have yet to experience any noticeable lag or problems with the voice chat. Ranked matches are quick and easy to get into and even allow for a brief bit of post-game smack talk before dumping players back out to the menu screen. You can also set up a player or private match where all of the options for changing characters and maps are a snap to switch between matches without having to restart the lobby.

Small Arms is an impressive example of what can be done with Xbox Live Arcade. The action is hectic, the online play is a blast, and the visuals are good enough that you won't forget you're playing on a powerful console. As a downloadable game, the experience isn't as robust as many stand alone titles even if it does feel like a full retail release at times. Without any other party brawlers on Xbox 360, this is an enjoyable and affordable option for those who just want to hop into an arena and start fighting

8.5 Presentation
Slick menus and a great online interface. These characters may not be well known, but they've got great style.
8.5 Graphics
From the characters to the environments to the weapon effects, it all looks great.
The weapons sound nice but the generic techno music could have been better.
A fun, fast-paced brawler. Small Arms just needs a better variety in the weapon pick-ups.
8.0 Lasting Appeal
The online play is great, but you won't mistake this for any of the classic brawlers offline.
8.2 ImpressiveOVERALL
(out of 10 / not an average)
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