Is that a robot in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
The original Custom Robo was on the import list of many N64 gamers. The idea of being able to control little machines capable of big destruction was pretty cool. Now, Noise and Nintendo have brought the GameCube version of the game over to America. Although it doesn't look or sound all that great, the awesome gameplay and the long single player mode make for a really good experience overall.
The idea of Custom Robo is that you control a miniature robot, outfitted with guns, bombs, and other weapons. If you can defeat the other guy, you win. If he defeats you, you lose. Pretty simple, right? Well, there are a variety of gameplay modes for you to see why it's not so simple. The vast majority of the game is spent in story mode, but you also have arcade modes that pit you against others in every combination possible: 1 on 1, 1 on 2, 2 on 1, 2 on 2, and every robo for itself. There's also a tag battle mode so two people can use two robos each. You'll come across all of these gameplay modes in the single-player story mode, but other than the single battle, most of these are constrained to the multiplayer modes.
The game's story mode is actually split up into two parts. The first half has you walking around a world map, going from place to place as member of the Steel Hearts, a bounty hunter group. The story itself is sort of pointless, as its only purpose is to get you into a series of robo battles and offer you battle tips. As you beat the battles, you start accumulating parts to further customize your robo. After you beat the first half of the story, you'll be able to start the second story, which uses the end of the first to set up a series of tournaments. The first story's battles are a good challenge as you get toward the end, but in the tournaments in the second battle, you will find that the game's difficulty ramps up considerably. In order to get good scores in the tournaments, you need to be very good at using the abilities that your customized robo has.
The general strategy of the game is to use your bombs and pods to trap opponents, then come in with your gun and take them down. If you just stand in the middle of the arena and wildly shoot at people, the gun's delay will make you a sitting duck. Likewise, if you just charge in without covering yourself with pods or bombs, you'll be cut down in no time. It's as much a strategy game as it is an action title, so you'll have to think about the best plan of attack given your choice of robo and weapons.
The emphasis on strategy is more important in that different battle arenas also require different tactics. Some are wide open, some provide lots of cover, some of them change between the two. How battles start also require some thinking: You start in little cannons that you can point in any direction, and when the game starts, your robo cube gets shot to where you pointed. When the number on your cube counts to zero, your robo pops out for battle. Depending on what number you start with, what arena you are in, and how quickly you think you can get your cube to open first, the start of a match is just as important any other part of it.
Before every battle, you'll have the opportunity to outfit your robo with weapons you've obtained up to that point. Body types include fast runners, high jumpers, giants, and hovering types, just to name a few. Each of them has its own strengths and weaknesses on the ground and in the air, like how easily it can be knocked down, etc. The movements of a given body type can be augmented by legs, which help the robo move around the battlefield. Leg types include models that make you run faster on the ground, jump higher into the air, and dash faster. Using the right body and leg combination is only half of the total package, though.
The other important decision to make is the choice of weaponry when going into a battle. Your main weapon type is the gun. You'll start off with a basic gun at the beginning of the game, but as you collect more and more of them, you'll start to see just how crazy and exotic they can get. Some of the guns include the familiar gatling gun, shotgun, and sniper gun. Some of the weird ones include a hornet gun, which shoots out five hornets that home into the target; pulse guns, which shoot with a bend in their firing pattern; and the dragon gun, which lets out a giant dragon that chases after its target. Since almost all guns leave your vulnerable after you shoot them, you'll have to set up a shot with bombs and pods.
Bombs and pods are explosive weapons. Bombs are what they sound like. Pods are modules that fire out from your robo. Some hover in the air, some go toward a target, some stay in place. Both of these weapon types offer some insane customization options. Many of the bomb and pod types are the same, except for how they explode. One might blow your opponent straight up into the air, while the same bomb of a different type will blow them sideways or backwards. Others can freeze them in place or knock them down immediately. Surrounding the other robo with bombs and pods is key to using your primary weapon to put the hurt on.
The most mind-boggling thing about the customizing though, is that if you take into consideration the 30+ body styles, 50+ guns, 30+ bomb types, 30+ pod types, and 15+ leg types that you'll eventually come across, you'll be able to construct 20 million different and unique robos. This alone will have you tinkering around for a very long time, until you find the set (or sets) that are right for you. Of course, most of the time spent playing the game will have you collecting all those parts in the story mode, then trying to beat the tournaments later on in the game. It will take a very long time to beat Custom Robo, simply because there is so much stuff to find.
This may seem like a rather lengthy explanation of how Custom Robo works, but it's really the only thing strength the game has. The graphics aren't too terribly special at all. The robos themselves are somewhat detailed, but overall the game has the feel of a nice-looking N64 game. Game sounds aren't all that great either. During the story mode, characters talk with an annoying chatter that becomes painful to the ears quickly. Music is forgettable and sound effects are barely passable. It just doesn't sound like two robots are dueling it out to the death.
Even though two of the game's major factors, the graphics and sound, aren't the greatest, the insane amount of customization for the robos and the highly strategical battle play make this a very good game overall. There are some points in the game that can get extremely difficult and frustrating, but all it takes is for you to find out the right robo customization against the tough opponent, and you'll be able to move on. Playing with up to four players makes for a crazy robo-battle party, too. The total package that Custom Robo brings to the GameCube is a unique experience, and if you're up for a challenge, don't hesitate to give this one a shot.