At first glance this comes across as a Smash Bros. clone, but only insomuch as this is a versus fighting game involving a variety of characters and weapons. The style and elements to combat are surprisingly unique, however.
Style-wise, the theme seems to be cute and cartoony. Combat is primarily gun-oriented, with very few melee capabilities. This game hinges greatly on skill in acquiring health and ammo, so it definitely falls into an easy-to-learn/difficult-to-master category.
The graphics look pretty sharp, especially for an Arcade title, but they aren't stellar. Attention was paid to the details, however, so there actually is a lot for the eye to focus on rather than worrying about the backgrounds and textures.
Sound effects fit the cartoon approach the game is taking, and work well for the various weapons. The character voices are probably the highlight; they do much to give some personality to the players. The music itself is more in the realm of "meh". The techno blend may seem to many to be an odd choice for a fighting game like this. I personally didn't find it distracting, but I can't say it was enjoyable, either.
The controls work very well for this title. Left-analog to move, right-analog controls aiming, and was more sensitive and precise than I expected when I first started playing. The dash, melee, and jump buttons are well-placed also. My only control gripe is it can be slightly clunky to execute an in-air dash, which comes in handy on some levels. It isn't overly difficult to master with some practice, however.
Really, there isn't any story. There's some background bio info on each of the characters, but it never plays a part in the game itself. I'm ranking it just under average, because a versus fighting game having no story other than some basic character info seems to be the norm, though Smash Bros. has started to supply a story campaign and has the benefit of more known backstory to the characters involved (hence my slight demote). I think it's reasonable to expect/hope for more story consideration from the genre in the future.
Replay Value (10/10)
The replay value in this title is nothing short of excellent. It's best to think of in a couple ways: single- and multi-player.
Single gaming options consist of Mission Mode (the closest thing to a story-mode there is), Challenge Mode (a kill-as-many-as-you-can-with-one-life thing), Training Mode (only worth one play to learn the ropes), and Shooting Range (a shoot-the-target mode). Mission and Challenge offer the strongest replay value, whereas Training and Shooting will likely only be done for the achievement tied to each.
Multi gaming has Ranked and Player. Both support up to four players. Ranked is very inflexible in approach (the games are two minutes each), but the Player mode allows one to let the games last off time (up to an hour) or off kills (up to 100). The multiplayer achievements are available in either mode. Local or online supports them, and one can, in fact, play online with local multiplayer too (I played a game with two online and two on my console, and another time three on my console and one online).
Achievements can help with increasing the replay value. The need for 50 and 100 wins can help keep the multiplayer viable (though these are easy to solo with two controllers), and for single player the need for 50 kills in Challenge mode can add a lot of value (it's the hardest achievement in the game).
The DLC adds two characters and two maps (but no new weapons). The achievements it adds are not challenging. Thus, it does little for replay value but is good if one wants to expand the gaming choices.
"Fun" Factor (8/10)
I think Small Arms is a very strong Arcade title, especially as a potential local "party game." The ability to mix local/online means filling out a session is extremely flexible. I never encountered any lag while playing online, nor did I receive any lag complaints when I was host. It's easy to pick-up and play single player too if one wants to just plug away for a bit. While there isn't anything deep to this, the gameplay mechanics are fun and it's very easy for just about anyone to understand. My biggest gripe is the lack of a random character selector. They have one for the maps, but not for the characters? An annoying oversight, but all in all not a big deal. I've had friends try it and declare they actually enjoy it more than Smash Bros., so it's one I'm keeping in my group-game rotation.
Overall score average: 7.6
Score-to-Star Translation Guide:
5 stars: 9.01 to 10 (out of 10)
4.5 stars: 8.01 to 9
4 stars: 7.01 to 8
3.5 stars: 6.01 to 7
3 stars: 5.01 to 6
2.5 stars: 4.01 to 5
2 stars: 3.01 to 4
1.5 stars: 2.01 to 3
1 star: 1.01 to 2
0.5 stars: 0 to 1