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Review: Custom Robo Arena

The Custom Robo series has been around since the Nintendo 64 era—though many might not have noticed when its first American iteration hit the Gamecube a while back. The series, which is comparable to a kid’s version of Virtual On, has taken the plunge to the Nintendo DS. Custom Robo Arena is an action game involving robot combat—a concept seen many times before—tailored to the family-friendly market Nintendo often aims for.

The tale begins when you and your family move to a new town—Midheart—because your father and older sister work for a company called NeoBrain and have been called to work at their headquarters to develop new robots for the company. Your character, another one of those “strong, silent, RPG protagonists,” has been interested in Robos for some time now, but hasn’t had the chance to use them. When your father finally gives you one as a birthday present, it’s off to the training grounds for you—after class, of course.

You make friends quite fast in the forms of Liv and Dennis, two young kids trying to form a Custom Robo team. Dennis is a bit of a coward, and Liv is a very pushy young girl who is very insistent on reaching her goals. Problem is, they need a third member of their team—that’s where you come in. It comes as no surprise that you seem to have a “natural talent” for Robo battling and become the backbone of their efforts. Go figure, right? The story goes from here, and is rather predictable for quite some time as you quickly climb the ranks from a rookie to a pro at battling your Robos. You know, the whole, “Robo-Master of the World Pro Ultra Plus!” sorta business that often stems from these concepts. You obviously have to rise from rookie to best-in-the-world within a span of two weeks.

The game creates a fairly unique world because rather than hopping into giant robots, the Robos are actually only a couple feet tall and are controlled through psychic powers. The game attempts to craft its own sci-fi world using this idea and does an affable job through most of the game, playing out as any Pokemon/Yu-Gi-Oh!/Dueling Critters anime would. The game takes a twist toward the end with a few interesting turns in the bend which result in a coherent tale with some thought put into it—the focus stays firmly on the human characters, especially Liv. Liv is arguably the main character of the story, much in the same way Midna was arguably the main character of Twilight Princess. Liv is the younger sister of last year’s annual Robo Cup tournament, Eddy. However, Liv lost her ability to control Robos many years ago in a dire accident, so all she can do is act as a support. To further her troubles, her brother left shortly after she helped him win the tournament. This adds up to character-driven interactions later in the game and serves as the crutch for Liv’s character development, and your character is the catalyst by helping her reach her goals and find her brother. (Coincidentally, I ran into some confusion throughout the story since I named my character Eddy, which was, unbeknownst to myself, the same name as Liv’s older brother)

The story has some surprisingly dire elements that get introduced later on in the game, and there is definitely some focus on the importance of family bonding and friendship. Overall, the story holds up well enough to lead you from battle to battle, though it can get a bit muddled up with its formulaic “talk to NPC, fight, talk to NPC, fight” routine. And don’t forget the ridiculous day-to-day approach, which begins and ends with pointless and repetitive breakfast and dinner chats with your folks—yes, we understand, Nintendo, let’s focus on the family. That’s all well and good, but it’s not implemented very well here and only serves to clutter the story and slow the pacing to a grinding halt between chapters of the story. This is amplified in the earlier section of the game when you have to go to class and even take exams once in a while—all of this is completely pointless, and doesn’t even fulfill its purpose of making the world seem more real.

Overall, the story isn’t anything to write home about, but the characters are likeable, and the writing’s definitely better than other junk you’ll find out there—at least these people put some kind of effort into a tale to tell.

Of course, the story mode, which serves up the bulk of the single player experience, would be meaningless if the combat wasn’t solid. Fortunately, all lights are green, as the combat is responsive and controls well, serving up a well-done 3D battle engine using the DS’s technical prowess. While the game unfortunately lacks true RPG growth, your robots change over time as you acquire a vast variety of parts which serve different functions, from legs to guns to bombs—and more. You can even put your Robos in a multitude of dioramas and pose them as you see fit—a nifty little function to showcase your Robos when playing against others. And don’t forget to polish them! What? You seriously didn’t think there wouldn’t be a tacked-on touch screen function somewhere in the mix, did you?

The different parts you acquire are well balanced overall, though by the end of the game there are certainly some parts that are more powerful than others—however, no weapon is not without its weaknesses. This element of tactfully combining parts to form a robot to fit the situation based on your opponent’s strategy is key to what makes Custom Robo unique, and gives it its name. Use a robot that is good at aerial abilities, fit it with legs that increase jumping power, and give it weapons that fit this fighting style—or give it parts that equalize its weaknesses. The options are varied and grand in scope, giving you the joy of customizing your own little machine of death and destruction in any way you decide.

Custom Robo does a good job at giving you a decent enough story with solid action and customizable Robos, and to top it all off, you can hop onto the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection to duel it out with people from all over through the internet. Multiplayer is where the gameplay is at in Custom Robo, since the AI doesn’t provide much challenge throughout most of the game. You have your friend codes (Lord, when will Nintendo get rid of these things?), and you can search for opponents as you would in Metroid Prime: Hunters. You can even add players you randomly fight to a Rival List so you can challenge them again later.

Graphics: 8
The character art is adequate and the characters display a decent range of emotions (most notably Liv and Dennis). The 3D Robos and environments look great for a DS game, with every single different part of your robot being unique—swap out one gun for another and your model will reflect the change. However, the overworld maps are very bland and frankly sub par in comparison to other stuff out there—the robots were clearly the focus of the graphics here. If dialogue scenes didn’t take place in that same-old box-sectioned RPG world you know well and grow tired of, the game would look a lot better. However, it does a good job at what it focuses on in the graphics department, serving up combat scenes that look very good for a 3D DS game.

Gameplay: 8
The gameplay of Custom Robo lacks the true growth of RPG games. Nonetheless, it’s an action game at heart and dishes out a solid experience with fast-paced combat and lots of options for attack-types and combinations of weapons. The different robot parts are balanced well-enough for the most part—even if you find an opponent with parts inherently better than the ones you have, you can always devise a strategy to exploit their weaknesses and combine it with raw skill to overpower them. There is also a “Soul Boost” ability which you can save up for emergencies to give you that extra edge.
Sometimes battles can feel mundane, but since there is such a wide variety of abilities, you experience different types of encounters through environmental hazards and different enemy attacks, which serve to keep the dish from getting cold.

But I still don’t get why your robots start off as cubes and get shot out of a cannon at the beginning of each fight…It adds an interesting little element of luck at the outset, though, since which side your robot lands on will effect how quick you are to enter the fray.

Sound: 7
The satisfying sounds of robots wrecking carnage upon each other is pulled off well, and the music has an overly-rock-ified vibe to it, creating a soundtrack that isn’t something you’d listen to outside of gameplay, but does its job well. The sound enhances the experience, but isn’t necessary to enjoy the experience.

Replay Value/Challenge: 9
For a DS game, there is a lot to do here. The story mode takes quite a while to complete, and while it can feel a bit repetitive at times, the story is all right and the gameplay is fun enough to keep action fans continuing onward to discover tougher foes and new parts. Even when you reach the credits, there’s still more to be done in the story mode (a lot more if you count the various challenges you could tackle), and getting all of the parts into your position can add quite a chunk of time to your play, as well.

Throw in a fun and worthwhile multiplayer mode that you can play online and you’re set to be bunkered into this game for quite some while, if you so desire.

Presentation: 8
The story is quirky and the dialogue ranges from all right to good. The character development sticks mainly to Liv and a couple other characters, and the interactions between these folks is well-done for the most part. The deeper and more meaningful elements of the story are not focused on as much as they could be, which is a shame, and your character feels lifeless throughout the game—an angry-faced master of destruction who merely serves as a tool to carry out Liv’s goals which she can’t accomplish herself.

However, the writing is good for a game of this type, the characters are likeable, the graphics and sound come together to form a nice package of DS tech, and even the menus are sleek and eye-catching. It all adds onto the core Robo battling to flesh out the experience into a quality portable title. For someone who has no experience with Custom Robo such as myself, this game caters very well to showing you the world it presents.

Overall Score: 8.0

Final Word:


Custom Robo Arena is a solid entry into this series, and I’m sure fans of its predecessors will enjoy it, while newcomers to the world (myself included) will fit in quite well. The game’s charming story and characters liven up what would otherwise be a pointless robo-shooting spree, though the shooting spree is fun and engaging with its multitude of options. If you’re craving a solid action title for your DS and have already gotten your fill of Metroid Prime: Hunters, Custom Robo may be right up your ally. It may feel mundane at times, especially if you hate battling AI (in which case I’d suggest playing some Wi-Fi) but Custom Robo comes recommended, as it is a worthy DS title for your collection that has a lot of content to give you that bang for your buck.

”I’m gonna peel you like a banana!”
I have no idea what that means…but it makes the process of sending his punk robot to the scrap heap all the more satisfying.


One Response to “Review: Custom Robo Arena”

  1. great overview of robo. the multiplay mode will get the best action combat out of this ds game

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