If your first thought when looking at LBX: Little Battlers eXperience was that it's aimed for children you'd be right on the money. From top to toe this is clearly aimed at the older child/young teenager market with its colourful aesthetic, 'kid-friendly' violence and badass robots. The core of the game however can be incredibly intricate and precise, something which is arguably more appropriate for the seasoned gamer. Can it manage to juggle both of these vastly different audiences?
The game's plot revolves around a young boy called Van who is desperate to get his hands on an LBX; small customisable robots that battle within safely confined arenas. Of course, as is the case with most child-orientated plots, his desire and eventual success in acquiring one of these figures against his mother's wishes becomes integral in saving the world from a complicated political fate. As clichéd as it is, the storyline is surprisingly engrossing and well delivered with some genuinely skilled voice acting and well-fleshed out characters - this is Level 5 we're talking about, after all. It's not exactly War and Peace but it's above and beyond anything this reviewer expected from what is primarily a children's game. Unfortunately, the plot only develops as you move around the world which - although well rendered - is largely empty. There are a few people with which you can battle if you wish, but apart from that most areas are barren. This wouldn't be an issue if it were not for the constant running around trying to progress the plot, and although it does make the world feel marginally more expansive, it gets a bit tiresome.
The major part of the gameplay besides running around is the battling, where you throw your beloved LBX into the fray to take on opponents. Whilst controlling your LBX you have access to typical combat mechanics: attack, jump, block, and dash. You can also use single-use items to perform actions such as restoring hit points, but these can take a long time to use and put you at a disadvantage, just as is the case in Capcom's Monster Hunter. You can equip up to two weapons at a time - ideally a ranged weapon such as a pistol and a melee weapon - both of which you can switch between at will during the match. Weapon variety is vast, but we'll come back to that later when talking about customisations.
On the whole the battles begin feeling easy and pedestrian, but as you start to progress your wits are rapidly put under pressure as enemies become tougher and more tactical. As you might expect a lot of the time a stronger LBX will beat a weaker one, but there are plenty of measures and techniques you can employ to improve your chances of success, even if your stats don't match up to your opponent's. This level of balancing creates a fair, enjoyable experience that means grinding isn't as important as it is in some other RPGs. If you're not so skilled on the battlefield you can still grind away to give you an edge in later battles. There are also various difficulty settings that can be chosen to increase or ease off the challenge, so whether you're a child or just pretending to be one, there'll be plenty to engage you.
The element most important to succeeding in battles besides stats and skill is customisation. The wealth of customisable parts for your LBX is staggering and trying to take it all in can be a bit overwhelming, even for an adult. Younger gamers might not be able to fully understand all of the customisation options but thankfully the game walks you through the more important areas and also kits you out with a very effective set of armour and weaponry should customising your LBX not be all that interesting to you. The most rewarding part is seeing your LBX in battle with all your customised components duking it out against similarly bespoke robots. If you want to go the extra mile and give your machine even more gusto, you can also customise the internal chipset which directly affects its stats and behaviour but does not alter it cosmetically. This aspect is really only suited to older players as the complexity is far greater than the other customisable components. The fact that you have all these areas to personalise your machine is excellent, but it doesn't detract or impair your efforts in the main storyline if you feel you'd rather just get stuck straight in with the fighting.
As mentioned previously, the weaponry that's available to you is also a great way to customise your experience. Single-handed weapons can be dual-wielded or paired with a shield for additional defence, whilst two-handed weapons will greatly improve your attack power at the cost of movement speed. There are nine different weapon classes to choose from, varying from pistols to sniper rifles to pole-arms to knuckle-dusters, and they all have their own unique characteristics to set them apart from their siblings. Although you can only choose between two weapon sets during battle you can save load-outs and switch them in whenever you want between battles. You can store up to 30 of these load-outs and they also include any other customisations you have set at the time, meaning you can change your LBX to counter any foe with just a few button presses before battle. There's an insane amount of satisfaction and enjoyment from making your LBX just so and then controlling it in real time to take out anything that dares challenge you.
There is a multiplayer option which allows up to six players to duke it out with their LBX over local wireless, but sadly this is limited to only local wireless, there's not so much as a sniff of online functionality. This is easily the game's biggest let-down; in this day and age there's no real reason why this sort of game shouldn't be playable online. Perhaps if you live in a bustling metropolis it's not such an issue, but if you happen to be stuck out in the sticks somewhere you'll likely be playing with only a handful of people over and over again, if you can find anyone else at all. The single player is a very solid experience but the fact that you can't flaunt your creations online against the greater public or even remote friends feels like a massive missed opportunity.
Little Battlers eXperience is an incredibly customisable and well-rounded title and it's an absolute blast to tackle countless foes with something you've created nigh-on every aspect of. The storyline is immersive and genuinely well-delivered and will give gamers of all ages plenty to enjoy. The omission of online multiplayer is a huge downer though, and it stops this game from being something truly exceptional. There's a lot to love, but it'll be a largely solo eXperience.