Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Custom Robo (GCN) Retro Review

Merry Christmas boys and girls of all ages! Since many kids around the world will be receiving toys for the holidays, why don't we review a game that involves toys? Of course, these toys are more bad ass than even your G.I. Joes and Transformers! We're talking miniature robots with guns, bombs, and awesome armor. Here's our retro review of Custom Robo for the Nintendo GameCube.

Robos in My Pocket

The Custom Robo series began in Japan on the Nintendo 64. It would then see two more releases, one on the Game Boy Advance, and another on the GameCube respectively. It wouldn't be until the fourth game in the series that developer Noise and publisher Nintendo would finally bring the Custom Robo series stateside. The final product is simply titled Custom Robo, and while the idea of fighting with miniature robots, armed to the teeth with destructive power and weaponry sounds awesome, the execution prevents the game from being nothing more than a slightly above average game in the GameCube library.

The story mode of Custom Robo has you playing as a gray haired teen, one whose father has mysteriously disappeared, leaving him with only a unique watch. Fast forward to the present, and your hero receives a letter stating his father has passed away. Taking this moment to fulfill his dad's wish for him to be a commander (i.e. one who commands a Custom Robo), our hero joins up with a ragtag group of bounty hunters known as Steel Heart. A lot of what is to be found in Custom Robo's story mode is menial errands to pad out the length of the game. It's only until about four or five hours in does the story start going somewhere interesting, and we're talking about a relatively short story mode of 10-12 hours to complete.

Harry is a fellow member of Steel Hearts.
He teaches our hero the ropes of robo battling.
By far the most fascinating and addicting part of Custom Robo is hinted at by the game title's first word. You can customize your robo with around 15-20 million combinations of parts. These parts are obtained through beating opponents in the story mode. There are five main parts of a given robo: its chassis (model), its right hand and left hand (serving as the robo's gun and bomb deployment respectively), its pod (backpack-like appendage), and its legs. The chassis of your robo affects not only its appearance, but it also affects how your robo maneuvers in battle. Meanwhile, different guns and bombs assist in attacking foes. Pods enable temporary flight, and leg parts affect jumping and dashing along the ground. The game does a wonderful job with detailing what each part does, its strengths and weaknesses, and its overall attributes. All of this makes it so finding the right robo for the right situation much less of a hassle than it could have been.

If you love customization like me, you'll
love what Custom Robo has to offer.
As for the battles themselves, these take place in Holosseums, special, confined, holographic arenas upon which robos clash in. All feature walls and objects to hide behind to help evade attacks, while some feature hazards such as ice and harmful lava panels to shake things up. There's a good variety of Holosseums to be found in Custom Robo, from holographic gardens to a toy box setting with its own choo-choo.

What do you call the retelling 
of a robo battle? A toy story.
Battles all begin the same in Custom Robo, regardless of whether it's a one-on-one confrontation or a team battle. Each robo is in cube form and inside a cannon that can be turned a full 360 degrees. When the timer hits zero, the robo cubes launch from their respective cannons and topple onto the Holosseum. Depending on where the robos have been shot, each cube will have a number on it from 1-6. The lesser the number, the quicker the robo will transform out of its cube and be ready to attack. Thankfully, if you do get unlucky and wind up with a high number, you can mash on the buttons to make your robo transform faster. Just be aware that you're vulnerable by early transformers in cube form!

Equip parts to fit the battle.
Your robo has two different bars to it, a health bar and an endurance bar. The first starts at 1000 HP, and goes down after each opponent's successful hit to you. Meanwhile, as your robo takes damage, its endurance bar empties. Once it reaches zero, your robo falls to the floor, downed in combat and vulnerable to attacks. After a couple of seconds, your robo enters rebirth mode, granting it a few seconds' worth of invincibility.

Free-for-all battles mean every robo for itself!
If you're one of those types of gamers who wants to button-mash their way through games, Custom Robo will eventually start handing you loss after frustrating loss. There's an element of strategy in the game that makes it so you need to plan when you fire your shots, fly across the Holosseum, and charge at your opponent. After all, all of these actions pause your robo for a split second, and that split second is all your opponent needs to take advantage of the battle. If you fire a shot and want to close the distance between you and your enemy, you probably need to throw in some bombs to slip them up. This all sounds great, but even with this level of strategy, Custom Robo's combat feels little more than a shallow experience.

Fire in the sky.
Though the story mode is fairly short, the main replay value of Custom Robo comes from its multiplayer. Obviously since we're talking GameCube era here, Nintendo had yet to embrace online, so the only multiplayer we're talking about is the old school local variety. Nonetheless, whether you're involved in a one-on-one encounter, two-on-two, or every robo for itself (the latter two make seeing what's going on in battle rather problematic), there is plenty of fun to be had. It won't take lead you and your friends away from Super Smash Bros. Melee as your main multiplayer GameCube game, but it's a great alternative.

Some Holosseums feature unique obstacles.
This one features conveyor belts.
Being released two generations ago, one would easily imagine Custom Robo not looking very well at all when compared to games out nowadays. That's only natural. However, upon its release and compared to its contemporaries, Custom Robo didn't even look good graphically for a game then. One might make a believable argument that the game visually passes more as a Nintendo 64 title than a GameCube one. Though to be fair, the actual robos are highly detailed and are the greatest graphical accomplishment of Custom Robo. Regardless, adding to my gripes with the presentation, the sound design is pretty horrid, with its generic music and grating sound effects. This is rather ironic coming from a developer named Noise...

Did you say something? I can't hear
you over this forgettable music.
Custom Robo was a franchise that North American Nintendo 64 owners wished released in their hemisphere. Many simply turned to importing the Japanese original. Now that the game has come out and I've finally played it (only took nearly a decade to do so), the wait doesn't seem to have been worth it. I don't feel like I would have missed out by not playing Custom Robo. Now, I still have the DS sequel, Custom Robo Arena to play through, but as of the time of this writing, I don't feel the massive love for the franchise that I thought I would from playing this game. That said, there is a market for Custom Robo out there. The customization is absolutely insane, the battles are enjoyable to a certain degree, despite lacking a lot of depth, and multiplayer will make for some fun gaming sessions with friends and/or family.

[SPC Says: 6.5/10] 

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