Custom Robo Arena DS Review

Custom Robo Arena satisfies that little itch you get after watching too much Robot Wars on television. Players control mini robots called custom robos in one on one fights in something called a holosseum (get it? hologram + colosseum). At first, the player starts off with a basic robot with average stats, but customizable parts such as different legs and guns become available.

The game would be pretty dull if holosseum battles were all there was to it, but there's also an RPG-like element to Custom Robo. The player, who plays a kid who has just moved with his family to a new town, has the dream of joining some police force and basically becoming a pro at custom robo battles. In order to do so, the player not only has to attend school, but also battle others in school and around town so that he (or she) gets better. Winning battles not only means your ranking goes up, but also winning a decent amount of money which you can use to buy other robot parts.

The first couple of battles seemed disappointingly easy. The opponents all seemed to have the same fighting style: circle around the arena in one direction, shoot and fire off bombs. Luckily, after gaining access to another part of town, fights got more exciting. Opponents were a bit smarter and their weapons definitely started to do more damage. One curious aspect, though, was the omission of any type of defense equipment. There's a button mapped to jumping, shooting, launching pods (self-propelled bombs), launching missiles, and even a button for close range melee attacks, but there was no button to block. While it's possible to dodge fire with double jumping, I still think some type of defense upgrade like a shield would have been more helpful than both a missile and a pod since they're similar.

One of the selling points of the game is the amount of customization that can be put into a robot. Players have a number of parts to choose from when it comes to legs, guns, pods, and missiles. In the beginning of the game, I had the feeling that customization would be broken by the fact that more expensive parts would mean better battle performance, so everyone would just end up having the same super-powered robot. Luckily, that's not the case. Different parts are useful depending on what the battle arena is, what type of robot the opponent has, and what the player's style of fighting is. I like to jump and double-jump out of the way and hide behind walls, so it makes sense for me to get the legs that give my robot a double-jump skill and the pods that can climb over walls and home in on targets.

Outside of battles, the Custom Robo plays out like your run-of-the-mill anime episode. The music is forgettable metal-rock that goes well with the robot theme, but doesn't really do much else for the game. Non-story-specific characters look generic in the overhead view while walking around town. Dialog is droll. If these are all tactics to get players to spend as much time in holosseums as possible, it works well.

Most of the game is played using just the buttons on the DS. During battle, action happens on the top screen while data, such as a gauge to show when your gun is reloaded or when the next pod is ready, are shown at the bottom screen. In the garage, where players can customize their robots, the stylus can be used to select different parts as well as clean their robots. Yes, I said clean their robots. Don't laugh, because a dirty robot will perform more poorly than a similar but clean robot. Cleaning a robot entails using a stylus to drag a cleaning cloth around the dirty area of the robot until it sparkles. That part of the game seems like an unnecessary addition just for the sake of using a stylus, but it should please the same type of people who get anal about fingerprints on their black DS systems.

Overall, the game does its job properly: it lets you customize a robot and fight other people, whether it be AI or real opponents (yay WiFi). Unfortunately, nothing really stands out in this game. The graphics are simple 2D sprites outside of battle. In a battle, robots are just made up of sharp polygons and it's sometimes hard to tell what's going on, which makes first getting into a fight confusing. Opponent AI was only average and the difficulty I encountered wasn't because the opponent had a good battle tactic, but because the opponent's weapons did so much more damage than mine. While playing this game, I couldn't help but think I would have enjoyed this more had I been 10 years old.

What's Hot: Robot battles. Lots of customization. Perfect for 12-year-olds

What's Not: Unexciting story, generic music, boring dialogue.