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Custom Robo Arena

Electro plop.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

I've got a big idea, readers. Why don't we all get together and declare that we've had enough of the same old clichés that lazy Japanese RPG developers like to foist upon us, eh? Just draft up a nice letter, get someone to translate it, and send it off to "All videogame developers, Japan." I'm sure it'll get to someone. And viola! No more amnesiac heroes with a vague but important secret. No more precocious young lads from tiny villages who turn out to be the chosen one. And no more heroes that stand mute, while their companions talk and the plot progresses around them.

Of course, it's entirely possible that Japanese RPG developers might not have any other ideas. Take Custom Robo Arena as a case point. Despite being built around a game system that features robots battling each other, using guns, bombs and all manner of excitingly destructive weapons, the developer, Noise, has wrapped the game with quite possibly the most tedious excuse for a plot I could imagine.

For example, the game begins with the main character waking from a dream of foreboding. On his first day at a new school! If we're going to count clichés, that's at least three already. Rolling out of bed onto a pre-packaged pair of sidekicks (one weedy but friendly, the other rambunctious, talkative, has a knack of getting into trouble) within minutes he's the lynchpin of their Custom Robo team, battling all comers on the way to the Robo Cup, where he'll finally become... The best Robo Commander of them all!

Look at this rubbish. The main character is practically as tall as the police station! Later, there's a mountain that's shorter than the trees!

Oh, and of course, one of the sidekicks has a vague, but important "secret" that she doesn't like to talk about. This doesn't count as a spoiler because it's so mind numbingly obvious - it's her brother. And, of course, the main character has to face him before they can finally become... The best Robo blah blah blah whatever.

It's like the developer doesn't have the slightest idea of what makes fighting robots cool. The Custom Robos in question aren't even gigantic, city smashing mecha fighting with real weapons; they're little toys that fight in tiny arenas in battles between children. To make matters worse, as if the game was programmed by your mum, it actually punishes you for not keeping your toys clean!

In Custom Robo Arena's one concession to being on the Nintendo DS (other than its Wi-Fi capabilities) you actually have to polish your Robo after every few battles to keep it working properly. This is the only game I've played yet that has asked me to rub a robot's crotch until it sparkled, and I'm not entirely sure if that's age appropriate.

Though the 2D graphics are terrible, the battles actually look rather nice, in a first generation Playstation One kind of way.

After all, the best comparison point for Custom Robo Arena is the Pokémon series, as it's quite clearly aimed at children. Both series are known for recycling their plots and their often rudimentary graphics, and Custom Robo Arena's 2D RPG portion looks like it was created for the Master System, never mind the Nintendo DS. While Pokemon Diamond/Pearl's graphical updates are scant, there's at least a vibrancy to the art which gives it the life that is sorely missing here.