It’s been a while since a new Wi-Fi battle game has been released for the DS. Online play is one of the DS’s finest selling points, and Custom Robo Arena takes full advantage of its multiplayer action. Before you can get started battling others, though, you have to play your way through at least part of the game’s storyline in order to learn about and build up the capabilities of your custom robo.
The RPG portion of Custom Robo Arena starts with you as a young boy who’s moved to a new town so your dad and older sister can work at a company called Neobrain. Neobrain manufactures—you guessed it!—custom robos. On the night before your first day at your new school, your father presents you with the Ray MKII: your very own custom robo. As you work your way through the game’s storyline, you meet a close group of friends who are also into custom robos, learn how to battle, experience different “holoseums” or battlegrounds and join Team Numero Uno to battle the school bully for the right to represent Midheart High in the custom robo tournament.
As you move on, you earn spending money for each battle won. You can use this spending money to buy new parts and accessories for your custom robo, each new piece of equipment designed to give you a specific advantage over different types of opponents. Spend your money wisely—it goes quickly when you’re buying new bombs, guns and pods at the custom robo shop.
What does Custom Robo Arena do well? Before each battle, you have the opportunity to closely inspect your opponent as well as the holoseum where you’ll be battling. This gives you the chance to equip your robo with exactly the right weapons and gear for the terrain and for the type of opponent you’ll be facing. Also, there are multiple opportunities to stop and battle by-standers as you progress in the story, so you always have a chance to veer off the main path and gain some more battle experience (or much-needed cash!).
There are some extremely irritating aspects of this game as well. For starters, is it really necessary to endure the same breakfast and dinner scenes every single morning and evening with the family? And I thought real dinner-table small talk was boring. Get used to hitting the B button to rush through these tedious conversations.
The single most frustrating thing about Custom Robo Arena, though, unfortunately occurs during battle. When you enter a holoseum and go up against an opponent, both custom robos are launched randomly into the holoseum. You’ll quickly notice that it can take your custom robo 5-10 seconds to stand up and get oriented. He might stand on his head for a moment, or lay flat on his back for a few seconds before jumping up into battle. No amount of frustrated button-smashing can make up for this irritating quirk. You have no control over your robo until he finally gets his bearings and is standing upright. Seven times out of ten, your opponent will be on his feet faster and you’ll start the match with less HP simply because your robo was uncontrollably slow.
Despite these issues, Custom Robo Arena’s role-playing portion provides an interesting supporting storyline. The possibility of unlocking more robo models and weapons to tackle stronger, more advanced foes keeps you interested in the story, and your ever more powerful robo keeps you going back to the WiFi battles looking for worthy opponents. My one regret for this game is that Nintendo’s Communicator Headset wasn’t released in time to let you scream at your opponent (or more likely, your own robo).