Custom Robo won't ring a bell to a lot of Nintendo fans on this side of the world. Though the first title hit Japan in 1999 on the Nintendo 64, it wasn't until 2004's GameCube update, the fourth in the action-RPG series, that the franchise saw a western release. The games revolve around players creating their own customisations for micro-sized Robots, known simply as Robos, and then battling each other in arenas. Back in 2007 Nintendo released a new game in the series for the DS, Custom Robo Arena, which comes as a very fun game, albeit a slightly flawed one.
The title includes two main modes, Adventure and Multiplayer. The former offers a full-fledged story in which you play a hero who's just moved to a new town and on his first day at school is given his first Robo, which actually unlocks Multiplayer mode. From then on, you gradually work your way up to becoming the Custom Robo champion, all while fighting an evil organisation along the way. Sound familiar at all? That's because it's been done before on many occasions, most notably in fellow Nintendo series, Pokémon, which leaves the story feeling dull and quite bland at times.
The similarities don't end with the story, though – they extend to the overall structure of the game. Adventure Mode involves you doing simple things such as walking through different towns, talking to and battling with people and participating in a range of different activities while gradually advancing through the story. While there are definitely a lot of things to do from town to town which will keep players interested, the game feels rather light on its RPG elements and what is there feels rather uninspired and generic, which may leave some players disappointed.
The battling side of the game, however, is where most of the fun is to be had. Battles take place inside an arena called a Holosseum Deck, with a large amount of stage variations available for use. A lot of these contain interactive elements such as breakable boxes, hot lava and even acid on rare occasions, which are a nice touch. Once the battle begins, you have 1000 health points and the aim is simply to reduce your opponent's to zero. After winning, you are ranked on your performance based on how long it took to beat the enemy and the amount of HP that you have left. The better the ranking, the more money you earn to buy Robo parts.
At first, the battles are pretty easy, but as you progress through the game it starts to get a lot tougher. Fortunately, for those who find it too difficult, the game will allow you to reduce your enemy's health by 25%, then 50% and finally 75% after increasingly continuous losses. It also contains measures to prevent you being unfairly barraged with attacks, as when you get hit hard enough, you will power down briefly but soon come back with temporary invincibility. All of these are useful measures as they help prevent the player from getting too frustrated.
The battles may sound a bit boring on paper, but customising your Robo is where this game comes to life – it really does add a lot. Initially, you'll start off with a basic Ray MK II, a prominent Robo model throughout the series. As you progress through Adventure Mode you will be able to obtain a large variety of new parts such as different bodies, guns, legs, pods and bombs for modifying your Robo. Developer Noise has created literally thousands of different customisation choices for players to utilise, which adds a lot of strategy to the game as there is no ultimate Robo. They all have their own strengths and weaknesses, so you can't always rely on the same configuration.
Throughout the main adventure, there are five sets of optional missions available as well, which often require you to adhere to special rules such as using a specific set of weapons or beating your opponent within a time limit. With around 90 different missions between these five sets, they add a lot of replay value to the game, offer something different from the normal battles and can be rather challenging at times.
There are two different types of multiplayer available, Local and Wi-Fi. The first can be played by both multi-Card and Download Play methods. There's a large set of differences between these, as while the first allows you complete freedom, the latter option limits you in your customisation. This is understandable, but it cuts down on one of the most appealing factors of the game.
Noise has created quite a competent Wi-Fi multiplayer mode for Custom Robo Arena, including its own ranking system. You can matchmake with random people or filter your searches to accomplish such things as playing against people with similar rankings, and you can then add whoever you play to a rivals list if you wish to fight them again in the future. Online matches, once connected, thankfully generally run quite smoothly and lag-free. In friend matches, Noise has gone the extra mile here by including Voice Chat, a nice addition.
One of the first things you'll notice is the heavy use of rock music throughout the game. While it occasionally compliments the action, a lot of the time it feels rather out of place and repetitive, often sounding like the designers just threw a bunch of electric guitars together and nothing more. Graphically, the game is pretty good, with the battles' 3D environments looking quite smooth and making good use of the DS's hardware. The 2D graphics of the rest of the game are also not bad, with a mix of pixel art while exploring in adventure mode and some nice, albeit slightly generic, anime designs given to the more important characters throughout the game.
Overall, Custom Robo is a somewhat flawed game, with its bland story and somewhat lacking Adventure Mode. However, with its fantastic customisation options, engaging battle mode and great multiplayer, this can be easily overlooked. Gamers will find in this something which is really fun and which will keep players occupied for many hours.