Review by TerranRedneck

"A few minutes to learn, a lifetime to master. Custom-Robo delivers the goods."

Being a fan of the Armored Core series I was interested in trying out the new GameCube exclusive Custom-Robo after playing a demo of it. The two are very similar in some respects but totally different in others. The basic idea is to collect numerous guns, bombs, and other assorted weaponry of mirth and mayhem to upgrade, augment and otherwise customize your robot. Hence, the name Custom-Robo. It features a solid single player mode and a highly entertaining multiplayer mode for up to 4 players with no split-screen. I'd recommend this game for most gamers of the non-sport variety, and below are the reasons why.

Story - 7/10 - A game like this really doesn't even need a storyline to keep you interested and playing more but they took a lot of time and effort to weasel one in there and you have to give them credit for that. You are a young lad starting out in the bounty hunting business in a world much like a post-apocalyptic high-tech Earth. Basically, being a bounty hunter gives you an ample excuse to engage all sorts of people in Custom-Robo battles. While it does drive the action along and it will still seem like the NPCs are really struggling to come up with far-fetched and entertaining reasons to battle you. The dialog is well written and pretty funny at many times, although it does seem to be a little too much talking when you are itching to burn some plasma. As the story progresses there are plenty of twists and turns and the requisite reappearance of a missing relative. Further into the game you uncover the planets greatest conspiracy which will actually be a bit interesting even for older players. Throw in a few moral dilemmas, and a few more missing relatives and you have a pretty darn solid story. After you beat story mode you get to revisit all the NPCs again in a Grand Battle mode. While hoarding piles of devastating thermo-nuclear warheads is your primary drive to fight just a couple more battles; the story doesn't much get in the way. Such a detailed story and character development isn't needed at all to make this game excellent, but it doesn't hurt at all.

Gameplay - 10/10 - Much like Super Smash Bros. this game thrives on furious action and loads of attacks being launched in every possible direction. As you progress through story mode you unlock more and more weapons to be used in any other of the wide variety of game modes at your disposal. There is a one player story mode which evolves into an tournament mode once the final boss is beaten. In the unlockable "Grand Battle" you fight through a load of matches collecting points (and bonus weapons) hoping to earn gold medals. The medals unlock more tournaments which then unlock more weapons. There are 4 player deathmatches, tag team battles, an Arcade mode with CPU bots, and even 1 vs 2 players if you feel like dominating two of your friends at once.

Basically before any battle you have to customize you mech to your desired specs. Your opponent and the arena in which you fight will have a large bearing on how you want to outfit your own robo. There really aren't any bots you can design with normal parts that will dominate at every single kind of battle. As an added bonus there are super devastating "Illegal Parts" which whip large loads of ass but will get you docked points for using in tourney battles. Fortunately these same superweapons can be allowed in multi for insane amounts of action. There are over 200 different parts to choose from so every player should be able to find a mech to fit their play style.

Each robo consists of 5 parts to combine into a fully functional Custom-Robo. Most parts are rated by 5 stats such as Speed, Attack, Defense, Homing Ability, Rapid Fire... you get the idea. You choose a frame (body) for your robot. Some can transform into a jet and dash about the arena, some can stealth dodge through the air to avoid attacks. You can pick a small little guy thats super speedy or a big slow bot to sponge up some damage. You then add on a Gun. Some guns are short range and high damage like a shotgun, others are long distance with high homing potential. With about 50 guns to choose from you are bound to find one you like. It might be a 3-Way Cannon, Drill Gun, or old fashioned Knuckler. As with life, variety is the spice of Custom-Robo. Next come your bombs. Whether it is acid based super spread wall penetrating dirty bomb or a plain old grenade you'll be using it to blow your opponent (and occasionally yourself) silly. Each Custom-Robo also gets to choose a pod. Pods are like "little buddies" that help you out. Some buzz around your rivals head obscuring his vision and annoying him, some serve as proxy mines, while others simply bounce off the walls blowing up on the first bot they meet. There are tons to choose from and each one has its upsides and downsides. Some are almost useless on their own but can play an integral part of a more sinister combo.

Customization is the heart of this game and it pulls it off well. Newcomers can brute force their way through the battles while more experienced players can experiment, practice and tweak until they have some truly ass kicking robos. And there is also a random customization option so that you can whip up a quick mech for a multiplayer battle. You could get a Metal Ox robo with an Afterburner Gun, Delta Bombs, Reflection Pods and Illegal Ultimate Legs; or you could get a Swift robo with a Stun Gun, Acro Bombs, Dolphin Pods and High Jump Legs. Every single combination of parts plays a little differently and there are literally tens of thousands of different combos to try.

Multiplayer is available but has no robos or parts to choose from until they are unlocked in Story Mode. There are a few multiplayer modes available. There are basic 1 on 1 deathmatches, and Tag matches. The tag matches are very entertaining as they allow you to "swap out" one of your designed robos for another in the heat of battle. It gives the matches an almost Pokemon like essence to them as you trade in one robo which is weak against the enemy you are facing and bring in one more suited to the defeating the design of your opponent. You can play some modes for 3 or 4 players as well. The action is insane and there are far too many variables to consider to be a truly dominating force in a seasoned 4 player battle. This makes it fun for vets and newbies alike to pick up Wavebirds and start engaging in seizure inducing bouts of Custom-Robo for hours at a time. 200+ parts, over 30 different arenas and lots of modes and unlockables makes Custom-Robo a perfect game to play alone or with a few friends.

Controls - 9/10 - Controls in this game are intuitive and simple. Stick moves the bot. The A button allows you to jump, hover, and air dash. B fires off your equipped gun. and the shoulder buttons fire off pods and bombs. In no time you will be running around the arena and having your favorite design kicking ass like a true ninja. One factor that may turn off some players of the game is the lag between button presses and the action onscreen. A noticeable lag at times is what a new player will think is a bad coding job on the behalf of the programmers, but seasoned players will realize how this "lag" is what makes the gameplay so deep and balanced. Without brief pauses where your robo is recharging, or landing, or reloading the game would boil down to just a pretty shootem up game. The little split seconds of downtime is what brings to Custom-Robo what every good multiplayer game should have... Strategy. You can't just jump up in the air and fire off 1000 rounds, you could try but after your attempt you'd be left wide open for whatever combo they enemy has in store for you. You have to jump so you land behind cover, slide while firing so you reload while obscured by scenery, and retreat from an enemy about to "Rebirth" into a precious second of invincibility. All of this must be done while speeding around the arena and dodging various pods, bombs, and other such nonsense. Once you learn that there is strategy involved in almost every fight you'll love the easy to handle controls which are also user customizable.

Graphics - 8/10 - The graphics are near perfect. All menus are well animated just like the views of the parts while selecting them in your customizations. Story mode's character models and scenery are below average but are nice and neat without many flaws. Especially nice are the anime-style faces shown on the sides of the dialog boxes. The battles themselves have great attention to detail but unfortunately the action is too fast to really take them all in and there isn't a replay option. Each weapon and other part looks different on your mech and are animated in a sort of "transformer" sort of way; with parts folding up, vents spinning, and spikes popping out. Each weapon has it's own animations and you get to know how to recognize them from experience. Displays and HUD info are useful. basic and unobtrusive. Some of the flavor text in multiplayer is hard to read on the tiny split screen that you use when selecting parts, but the battles themselves are all on one shared screen much like Super Smash Brothers: Melee. The graphics aren't up to par with SSB:M, but they are good enough and get the job done while filling the screen with explosions of hundreds of different colors, sizes, and shapes.

Audio - 5/10 - The sound is the only real downside to this game. It is not terrible but there is nothing really outstanding about it at all. There is no spoken dialog so get ready for some reading. For the most part the songs are forgettable, but thankfully un-annoying. There are one or two you might actually enjoy. Sound effects in story mode are limited but there are plenty in battle. You can use the various sounds for all the various weapons to help you time your attack as well as time your dodging. The sound effects are there and somewhat different but nothing spectacular.

Overall - 9/10 - What this game lacks in audio it more than makes up for in gameplay. With 15-25 hours of story mode till 100% completion and an lifetime of multiplayer battling; Custom-Robo delivers a very solid blend of planning and strategy with split second decision making and gut instinct maneuvers. Despite poor reviews and minimal amounts of fanfare, Custom-Robo is likely to be one of the sleeper hits of the year. I'd recommend it as a purchase rather than a rental, because to get full enjoyment out of multiplayer there is lots of work to do in story mode. If you have no friends then you could get by with just renting it. Either way playing a few games of Custom-Robo should be on the top of any gamers to-do list.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 05/25/04

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