Custom Robo Arena (Nintendo DS) is basically the ultimate take on Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, with a huge customization factor. With hundreds of parts for you to build your own mechanized mayhem, this game is anything but standard issue.
But, before you get all those juicy parts, you have to play the Story mode, which plays like an RPG where you challenge several characters to battles for rank and cash. The story takes place in a futuristic city where Custom Robos (which are actually the size of toys) are used for recreation and as weapons. Your character is an aspiring police officer, but he still has to get through school and master Custom Robos before that is possible. On his first day of high school, he meets Liv and Dennis from the custom robo team “Numero Unos.” They guide your character through the world of Custom Robos and take him from the school-wide tournament to the world championship, along the way uncovering the mysterious Soul Boost ability and a crime syndicate that uses Custom Robos for nefarious activities.
Battles occur in small arenas with a variety of obstacles to use to your advantage. Each Robo starts out in a cube loaded into a cannon at the arena center, which you can aim before the battle starts. When the fight begins, each is launched onto the field, making for a dramatic start to the action, and adding a unique strategic element. Escaping from your cube, however, adds an element of chance that doesn’t fit. Depending on which side your cube lands on, your Robo might start on its side or back, making it hard to get up and get going; meanwhile, if the enemy started on his feet, he might come right at you and deal big damage before you’re up. Otherwise, battle is balanced, fun and fast.
None of the parts you can customize your Robo with are vastly superior to the others, they just have their own unique use. The trick is finding the right parts that work together or that fit your combat style. As a result, you can fight your friends on even ground pretty early on. As the story progresses, you can visit more shops and buy new bodies, legs, guns, pods, and bombs. Some parts help you lock onto enemies, some have tactical applications — like flushing your foe into a trap — and some help you escape danger. Whatever strategy you can think of, there is probably a part to make it work, which makes creative thinking quite rewarding.
You can also buy dioramas to display your Robo on. Even in this, the options given to you are staggering. There are dozens of different dioramas ranging in theme from steampunk to a gym. You can then position and pose your Robo how you like. It has no affect on the actual gameplay, but your living opponents get to view your diorama before a match. This adds style to combat and even tells you something about what you might be fighting against.
Parts bought in the Story mode are usable in any other mode, including multiplayer and Wi-Fi battles. You can save up to five different Robo builds, allowing you to adapt to your opponent’s strategy between matches by switching to a counter strategy. Though, with so many combinations of parts, it’s impossible to be ready for everything. Wi-Fi battles are easy to set up and really push this game to the next level. You can arrange battles with friends after you’ve recorded their Friend Code. You can also battle random opponents with the option of seeking those of similar experience with the game. Of course, these days you won’t find many battles unless you set something up with a friend anyway. If you have a particularly intense battle with someone, you can add them to your Rivals list so you can battle again another day.
While the music is generally cheesy (much like the story), it still manages to rock during the all-important battles. Maybe they intentionally made most of the music silly just to lend more intensity to the fights in contrast. Whatever the case, it’s definitely the right sound for robots blasting robots. From metal feet hitting the ground, to a missile launched into the air, every sound is distinctive, which actually helps when you have to react to your opponent even if you cant see him.
I dare say that Custom Robo Arena is my favorite action game for the DS, due to its endless experimentation, strategy and replayability. If you’re interested, you might try picking up more than one copy to give one to a DD-weilding friend. It’s well worth it to experience the competitive nature and creative fun of building and battling a Custom Robo.