It's been a long time since I last reviewed a hidden gem on the Gamecube. To be honest, it has been a long time since I last started a new Gamecube game. A friend is letting me hold onto a few of his games for a while though, so I figured a few weeks ago was a perfect time to dust off the ol' cube and get back to what brought me here in the first place.
Custom Robo - Nintendo Gamecube
It's not too often that we see an IP with five entrees slip under the radar to the extent that Custom Robo has. Spanning all the way back to 1999 on the Nintendo 64, the Custom Robo series was initially one that was kept exclusive to Japan, with its first three entrees, Custom Robo, Custom Robo v2, and Custom Robo GX never to see an international release. Eventually, North America got its first taste of the Custom Robo series in the year 2004 on the Nintendo Gamecube. For a retro game, Custom Robo has a pretty considerable price tag, sitting at around $25 on eBay at time of writing, but is Custom Robo still worth a 3-Way or Vertical shot, or has it rusted over time?
At its forefront, Custom Robo is an action RPG. Most of the gameplay takes place in 3D battle arenas where either two or four Custom Robos will fight in order to reduce their opponent's health from 1000 to 0. The way to gain the advantage over your opponent is by taking the Robo that you are given in the beginning of the plot and upgrading it using parts you are awarded by completing certain tasks as you progress through the initial 10 hour campaign. Things start off pretty simple while you have few parts to select or swap-out, but quickly become much more interesting as you are awarded many different parts frequently. Each Custom Robo is made up of a combination of 5 parts: gun, bomb, pod, legs, and model. Most of the parts are so vastly different from each other that even the most subtle changes to your build can produce drastically different results in the battle arena. I experimented with a few different builds to find one that fit my playing style, and in the process played briefly with a Custom Robo that did heavy damage and jumped really high but lacked mobility and was armed with a 3-Way shooting gun and heat seeking missiles, and another Robo that was extremely agile and powerful while in the air but lacked fire power on the ground, equipped with triple-pods designed to meander around the battle field, before I finally built the perfect Robo for me: a Robo with the ability to warp while in the air, armed with a gun that shoots both forward and up, pods that could be fired three at a time, and bombs that cleared walls.
The story is much less intricate than the building and fighting of Custom Robos, though it is not without its plot-twists, fun characters, and genuinely humorous dialogue. After selecting the name of your character, you wake up in your home and are immediately encouraged by your land-lady to pursue a job as a mercenary working for an organization called the Steel Hearts. You get the job after proving your natural talents with a Custom Robo by fighting off enemies from a rival gang called Z Syndicate who failed in an attempt to rob a nearby laboratory of a rare Custom Robo model. Without wishing to give anything more than the first 5 minutes of the game away, you eventually learn what/who it was that the Z Syndicate is after, as well as who runs the Z Syndicate. Overall, the story, while cute and necessary in order for some of the hilarious dialogue to hold meaning, does little more than serve the gameplay.
After all of that, there is a second story mode that is unlocked after completing the first. The second story mode throws you and your fellow Steel Heart members into a tournament meant to have the citizens of the town regain the trust of the police after it was lost as a result of the events in story number 1. While I found the entirety of the first story to be extremely easy albeit fun, the second story provides a much greater challenge. As opposed to the fights in the first story won by selecting the same build and using the same strategies every round, I found myself having to use different parts and tactics in order to account for the game's increased difficulty level. In story number 1, I felt discouraged from using different parts after I found a build that worked perfectly for me, but the increased difficulty provided by the second story was exactly what I needed in order to explore the game's depths to further extent, and I wasn't disappointed.
At the end of it all, the gameplay is divided into two parts: 1 where you walk your character to which ever location on the map triggers the next plot point, and 1 where you actually fight. Throughout all of Custom Robo, there are no puzzles, no exploring, and no level-up system besides the acquisition of new parts. While the fighting is addicting, I did become concerned that the lack of variety in gameplay would result in the game feeling samey. However, since the game is so short, with my completing of the first story taking a shade under 10 hours, it ends before you get tired, and while I will always appreciate a game for not over-staying it's welcome, it would have been nice to see more variety.