A Custom Robo Retrospective: An Underrated Classic?

Games released during the era of the Gamecube are among the most cherished. Super Mario Sunshine, Metroid Prime, Wind Waker, and more carved the way for a whole generation of gaming. A few other titles didn't make that much of an impact upon release, but Custom Robo might be a title apt for the moniker of an underrated classic.

A Custom Robo Retrospective: An Underrated Gamecube Classic?

For all that the Gamecube lacked in technological power, it gained in riveting, genre-defining titles. Super Mario SunshineMetroid PrimeThe Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker; only a few titles in a long list of Gamecube exclusives that helped shape today’s players. With all the hype surrounding them, it becomes an inevitability that other titles don’t gain such traction. From Kirby Air Ride to Killer7, tons of valued games have since developed cult followings years after their initial release. Today’s topic is a robo-action game that inspired my interest in Garrison: Archangel, instilled into me from the ripe age of 11. Its name is Custom Robo (or Custom Robo: Battle Revolution in Japan), and it deserves its time to shine as an underrated spectacle.

As a quick aside, allow me to explain that one’s impression of “underrated” can manage from various places. Playing this multiple times in my adult life, I don’t actually think the game is great. What makes Custom Robo underrated is the barrage of atrocious scores it received when it first released in 2004. 65 on Metacritic, 5/10, 5.75/10, C-; perhaps the game-rating was different back then, but now? Those scores are atrocious. Anything under a 7/10 should be feared now-a-days. With those in mind, Custom Robo is absolutely underrated. With this retrospective comes a collection of reasons as to why this title deserves more love, for better or worse.

Warning: The following will contain vague spoilers on the plot of Custom Robo.

Custom Robo could also lay claim to underrated title card

Custom Robo could also lay claim to underrated title card

It’s Weird

I realize this is niche appeal, especially considering the popularity of familiarity. Call of Duty continues to be among the highest-selling game franchise ever, and while it gets criticism for doing little with itself, people still buy it every year. Such creates a desire for something new and something more off-the-wallsCustom Robo isn’t like Call of Duty in many respects, though the one thing it likely differs most is in its absurdity.

To those who speak the language, the plot and characters of Custom Robo could be summed up as “anime.” To those who don’t, Custom Robo has an appeal to those who enjoy uncanny supernatural/sci-fi elements, a balance between aloof comedy and tryhard drama, and rambunctious spirit. Speaking nothing of the gameplay, Custom Robo has a very cliché plot and corny characters that manage to be likable due to a commitment to its themes. Also weird. Cannot stress enough how weird this game is.

Custom Robo promotional art

Custom Robo promotional art

Multiple characters with hair as deep as each color of the rainbow, along with attire. An ancient, mindless(?) terror that seeks to eradicate humanity. A huge governmental cover-up to keep the citizens of the central town unaware of a catastrophic secret. Unknown connections, hidden motivations, details hovering in the shadows. Custom Robo thrives on the extremity of its situation, one written to elevate its memorability to new heights—it worked for me. Custom Robo has an underrated quality of bizarreness that helps with memorability and player connection. One would think fighting with robots in a holographic dimension would be weird enough, yet it remains only the forefront.

Importance of Character

A huge debate in the critiquing world still rages. Story versus characters. Which is more important? For me, it’s undoubtedly characters, as that is the driving force behind empathy and connection. Without any characters I can connect with, a story can only grip me so far. Custom Robo incorporates this belief with the same tenacity as The Dukes of Hazzard: reckless and thrilling.

Additional Custom Robo promotional art

Additional Custom Robo promotional art

Reckless being the level of archetypes attributed to these character pieces. The ladies’ man, the shy girl, the overprotective sibling; many characters are fairly one-note. What makes this another underrated quality to Custom Robo is the way it develops them. Not all characters receive equal treatment, as the quantity surpasses the runtime, but the major characters have multiple moments of character growth. Chemistry works wonders to improve the story and one’s compassion for these people. Being able to choose certain responses to gauge the tone of the conversation is even better, even if they don’t amount to much.

When all is coming to a close, what becomes apparent is the player’s closeness to the characters. Even the main character has a bit of spunk to him, which differs from the typical hero in JRPG-like stories, specifically. From an inexperienced journeyman to an incidental hero, following his journey to the end is an underrated aspect to Custom Robo‘s magic.

This seems magic to me - custom robo underrated

This seems magic to me – footage from Demonkush

Combat is Great, Albeit Simple

More important than any factor in a video game is its propensity for fun. A wise man once said, “If it ain’t fun, why bother?” Does duking it out with aerodynamic robots with multiple weapons sound fun? If so, Custom Robo may be to your specific tastes. Outside the story, Custom Robo‘s main zeal consists of robo-battles, done in a “holosseum.” Starting off with 1,000 HP, the objective is to drop your opponent’s down to 0. Guns, bombs, pods, and a special dash move add to a chaotic battle environment.

One major criticism of the combat comes down to its necessity. Chances are, if you have a good enough gun and dash proficiency, the bomb and pod options may as well not even exist. Many points during my playthroughs I made the active choice to use my bombs and pods because I valued variety, not because I thought they’d be useful. Battling is one thing, but only pressing two buttons for every single battle (probably around 50) can grow tiresome. Simplicity can be as much of a crutch as it is a blessing; Custom Robo‘s underrated spectrum doesn’t quite take this into the equation.

It's CUSTOM Robo for a reason - underrated

It’s CUSTOM Robo for a reason – footage again from Demonkush

However, battles can change greatly depending on the weapons equipped. And Custom Robo supplies tons of them. Standard editions to “illegal” parts later on, the player can situate their robo to employ weapons ranging from a high-speed sniper rifle to a giant fist. Protip: some weapons/equipment is more efficient than others, so be sure to customize often. With so many options, one has the ability to play through a variety of different styles, whether fast and fragile or slippery and cunning. The “Custom” in Custom Robo isn’t just for show.

Even with all the faults, Custom Robo remains one of my favorite games of all time. All previously covered content in tow, I am confident in the game’s capability to please the general gamer. Again, it is not a great game that should be heralded as the best of the best, but its silly heart makes its general anonymity so heartbreaking. In recent years, Custom Robo has become a popular pick for underrated games on the Gamecube console, so its image is slowly recovering to a relevant state. For me, it was always special, and perhaps it may be special for you, too. Whatever comes of it, there will always be the memories of peaceful whimsy.