So, after weeks and weeks of, to be honest, rubbish being put onto the Arcade, in the form of old classics or Uno decks, it was a joy to learn that an original game would finally be making it’s way to us. Everyone had high hopes for Small Arms; it looked different and fun. But does it live up to the expectations?
The first thing most people will do is go into the single player options and do the tutorial, partly for the achievement, but also partly to get used to the game. You learn that the left stick makes you move, the right stick aims whatever weapon you’re wielding. A is jump, with Y making you dash in any direction you choose. X allows the pick up of weapons, and also doubles up as a melee attack along with B. The right trigger, naturally, shoots your weapon, whilst the left trigger fires your secondary weapon. Pretty straight forward then.
Well, it is until you get in a game. If you’re anything like me, you’ll immediately head into Xbox Live and discover everyone is better than you. You’ll try and join in, but get obliterated. Using the right trigger to shoot, and the right stick to aim, whilst moving the left stick to move, and jumping with A really doesn’t feel comfortable. Shooting on the move is inaccurate, and makes life considerably harder than it should. The controls just don’t feel right, and you never totally feel in control in the way you should do, which removes a bit of the fun, because, in the beginning at least, it feels more like a chore as you work relentlessly hard to get to grips with the controls. Had they of told me that bumper buttons initiate jumping as well, my experience may have been different. Even then it makes it hard to pull of jumping, shooting and moving fluidly.
It’s not all bad though. Given how much there is going on over Live with four people, there isn’t an ounce of lag to be seen, even during the game’s most frantic moments. The weapon choice is brilliantly varied, offering you a different experience with each weapon, since you have two different modes of fire. Thankfully they are balanced too. For example the sniper rifle is useless (read:crap) shortrange, but over a longer distance it is unbeatable. The flame thrower, though it may seem as the God of all weapons at first, actually also has some drawbacks. Firing it in too close a proximity to yourself will result in you setting your little character on fire, causing some heavy damage. The choice of characters is excellent as well. Initially there are eight available to choose from, with another four requiring you to unlock them in the single player. The characters range from a pig with a sniper rifle, to a crazy chicken holding a flamethrower, to an innocent looking girl firing green things. Every character starts with a different weapon, so the pig will always start with the sniper rifle, but this can obviously be swapped mid-battle. items litter each level too, rainging from ammo boxes to health power-ups.
Of course, the game would be nothing if it had no levels. Fortunately this game has some, and they range from good to annoying. There are seven to choose from, with one of those being locked (again, this needs to be unlocked in the single player). There is a train level which is side scrolling, so you always have to keep up, something which makes the game move a lot faster, with everyone battling for the next carriage ahead. Good, clean fun (no blood in this game). However, perhaps the most annoying level is the unlockable one. Featuring lava, which results in instant death, the level is small and there is little room to move. Whilst some may enjoy this, I had difficulty controlling my character, causing me to commit suicide three times in the same game. The level is too small for four people, and the controls mean you lose control often. It’s not just me; I’ve witnessed others jump to the other side but falling clean off. I wasn’t pleased. But I did have fun eventually, since the weapons and maps keep it interesting long enough for you not to get bored. The single player though isn’t quite in the same vein though.
You probably won’t want to spend much time with single player other than to unlock characters and gain achievements. There are four different modes on offer. Naturally, Mission Mode is the hub of single player, whilst Challenge Mode and the Shooting Range make up the other part. The fourth is the training, but you wouldn’t do that more than once.
Mission mode basically offers you the chance to go head to head with the CPU. In the latter stages, it’s head to head head head, since the fights increase to 3 on 1 battles, all against you. It’s actually incredibly hard, since, rather predictably, the CPU have an amazing aim and hit you 8 time out of 10, compared to my 4 out of 10 hit rate. You will complete single player though, since every time you run out of lives mid-game, you have to continue, which deducts points from your score. You won’t ever get Game Over, but you will always get frustrated. The boss battle at the end was actually easier than all the other stages I’d done (with flamethrower in hand), I found anyway. It mixes it up with a shooting range task, but you’ll know that you should be on Live.
The shooting range gives you 30 seconds with limited ammo to rack up as many points as possible. You shoot at three lines of targets above you, and getting bulls eyes considerably helps you get a better score. Whilst the challenge mode is a how-long-can-you-last mode, and you just battle CPU after CPU. My best was three. Looking on the Leaderboards, someone managed to down over 430 of them, spending way more than 90 minutes doing so. Clearly, I’m not the best (I swore blind for many minutes that there must be some sort of cheat. I accepted the fact that I suck soon after).
The most annoying thing about the single player is the lack of replayability. I was shocked to discover, that after completing it once, I had unlocked three of the four characters. I knew I hated the unlockable level (since you play on it if the host has it unlocked and selects that map on Live), and the fourth character didn’t bother me. I feel I have no need for the single player now.
I’ve gone on for long enough, it’s ony an Arcade game after all; something to keep you happy for a few hours at a time. And I think Small Arms just about would. As with any game like this, if you get three mates round and play on one 360, the experience would be amazing. Laughs a minute as you bash your mate to death; tears and frustration as the battle turns against you. Over Live, that feeling is lost a little bit, but it still offers some good fun. The game is annoying at times, with the single player offering nothing unless you really need to improve your Gamerscore. People will and do compare Small Arms to Smash Brothers on the N64 or GameCube, and you can see why. The influences are obvious, except the focus is now on long range rather than close range combat. You would argue that Smash Brothers does it all better, but I’m sure if the developers Gastronaut Studios had the same budget, then this game would have been bigger and better. Put it this way, if you loved Smash Brothers, you will like this. The product is better than most other offerings in the Arcade areas, and most of you won’t regret spending money on this. However, with it being a fully focused multiplayer game, the single player feels rushed and unloved, offering you nothing to go back to. This game is one for the multiplayer only.
A chicken provides a health boost
Final Score: 7/10 - Above Average (How do we rank games?)