Pokemon meets The Terminator.
The Custom Robo series has been around since the days of Nintendo 64, but only a couple of the games were ever brought to America. One more joins the ranks this spring, with Custom Robo Arena coming to DS. The game combines robot building and battling with a Pokemon-style RPG, complete with collecting aspects. It also features support for Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, including voice chat, still an uncommon and highly desirable feature.
In the strange world of Custom Robo, people use tiny robots to do all sorts of tasks. They also like to customize their robots with different weapons and face them off in tournaments, like a nerdy version of The Fast and the Furious. In the game's story mode, you play as a young boy learning to build up his robot. The adventuring gameplay uses anime-style 2D graphics and looks much like the Pokemon RPGs, as you walk around and talk to people and solve their problems. Eventually you enter the Custom Robo championship and foil the plans of some villains who want to use their souped-up robots to commit crimes. Between battles, you explore towns, collect new parts, and redesign your robot buddy.
Battles are the real meat of the game and take place in real-time within small arenas. The action is displayed in 3D on the top screen of the DS, while status information is down on the touch screen. Success in battle depends not only on your playing skills but also on how well you have designed your robot to match up against the opponent. The hundreds of customizable parts include various guns, bombs, and pods; the latter are tiny helper robots that hover near the main robot and help out in various ways, much like the "options" in Gradius. There are also many choices for body frames and legs, which affect the robot's speed and mobility. Over the course of battle, your robot will get dirty and its performance will degrade as a consequence. By collecting various cloths and using them to clean your robot (with the stylus, of course), you can keep it in top form.
As mentioned above, online play with voice chat is a major feature of this game, but you can play locally too. Both multi-card and download play are supported; presumably, your friends can use pre-constructed robots in the latter case, since they won't have their own custom designs. An additional and very weird multiplayer feature lets you trade dioramas with friends. These objects are like animated puppet stages, complete with music, on which you can pose your robot and play make-believe. So…there's that.
The Custom Robo series has never really taken off in America, but Arena for DS may change that with its Pokemon-style single player mode and extensive multiplayer features.