The Nostalgia Trials #1: Custom Robo

Warning: Some Custom Robo spoilers below! It has been over a decade, though, so I am not sure if I really need to warn you.

I am finally exploring the wonderful world of Custom Robo again, and I am so excited. When I played the game at a very young age, I was astounded by the complex story, countless customization options, and the distinct personalities of every character I met. The world of Custom Robo was one I could not grasp at such a young age, I could not strongly connect with any of the characters’ hardships, and could not understand the weight of the situation the characters were in. Custom Robo was just a game where I could shoot dragon beams out of my arm, and destroy other customizable robots. Custom Robo was a perfect game, to my young child mind.

Past Thoughts

When I first pressed the power button on the Game Cube and saw as the system start a game called Custom Robo Battle Revolution, I had a feeling the game I was about to play was going to be a fun experience. The opening cutscene was one unlike any previous game I had played. The graphics were some of the best I had ever seen, and the fight scene it depicted flowed extremely well, and presented the unique features of four of the types of custom robo designs, each with different movements, weapons, pods, etc.

The coolest of these robo models was the Ray 01 design, with colorful armor, and fighting skills surpassing the other robos he was fighting, there was no robo quite like the Ray 01’s amazing design. The opening scene showed me that I was going to play as someone utterly awesome, and as far as I remember, the gameplay delivered on that aspect.

Ray 01.PNG
Ray 01

I remember going through the game with ease as I blasted through my enemies with my flame gun, and stuck with the weapon throughout most of the game due to its power being unmatched to most of the other guns to equip Ray 01 with, and I was never presented with an event in which I thought it would be wise to use a different custom robo design, switching out Ray 01 for an Aerial Beauty, a type of custom robo with better air performance, because when I was in a tough situation, I would just hit retry, and brute force my way to victory.

I don’t recall any of the challenges I faced being too difficult, with the exception of the final boss, of course, but I do remember that some of the late-game weapons were very interesting compared to the ones found earlier in the game. At the beginning you are shooting a line of five beams, and at the end you can create swords in the sky to rain down on enemies, as well as summon a dragon from your hand that will follow your opponents before exploding. The progression always felt well paced, since after each battle or two, a new item would be available in the form of a new type of robo, gun, pod (jetpack), shoes, or bomb. Each of them were quite different from each other but some just seemed absolutely unnecessary to use when you already had a loadout that you were skilled at using, leading to quick story progression.

The only parts of the story I remember are some of the most important characters, but I can’t seem to remember the roles they played in the story itself, or their names. To even write this section I had to do some quick googling to make sure I was not saying names not actually in the game! Doing so brought back some of my memories with the game, and also brought back some negative feelings I had towards one character.

Almost all of the characters in the game were amazing to get to know, each with their own reasons behind their actions, different dialogue tones matching their personalities, and each with their own custom robo. I remember your boss, Ernest, slamming his fist on the table and yelling censored swears at the Steel Hearts workers when he did not like what was currently happening, with loud “DUN”s coming from his mouth, denoting the harshness of his words. I remember the sad tale of Marcia and her life as an alienated individual due to her unique abilities, and my favorite character Sergei, Marcia’s brother, who wore an awesome mask and had one of my favorite designs of any character ever, who was also very strong and cared for his sister.

Sergei
Sergei is so cool.

One aspect of the characters that I am currently thinking through is if one of the problematic characters, Harry, is as problematic as I think he was. Harry was the hero’s best friend, who guided him through his journey as a robo commander from start to finish, but be also might have been a garbage person. Harry was always so interested in romance, bringing up every chance he got that women were attractive, and spent his time hitting on multiple women throughout the game. I am having a hard time remembering if the girls were portrayed as liking him back, or if he was a harasser. As of now I am leaning towards the latter, but will make my final decision when I play the game again.

As for the other aspects, I honestly don’t know what to say. I remember the graphics being quite nice, but do not recall any of the music, except for the track played in the opening cutscene of the game and on the title screen.

Okay, now it is time to play the game, oh boy I am worried.

Post-Credits Thoughts

Well, Custom Robo is still quite a good game. Still very fun and perhaps better than I remembered, and my questions about Harry have been answered, and it is not looking good for him.

Every character I met brought a smile to my face as I remembered greeting them for the first time a long time ago. Ernest was as mean and great as I remembered, being an angry boss by day and a nice poet by night. Marcia was still a kind individual with unique powers and a history of being a test subject. She was a hero, and a victim of how the world treats people who are different. This time, though, I discovered that the side characters were also extremely interesting. Bogey, the owner of a cafe and an illegal robo battle arena, still brought up his struggles as an owner of a small business, and Mira was a strong, skilled, and smart officer that was so much better than her brother, Harry.

Which doesn’t say much because Harry was an absolute garbage human who was the one and only awful character in Custom Robo. He acts as the hero’s teacher throughout the whole game, and I could tell that he was going to be a major problem. His life revolves around one thing, flirting. That’s his thing, that is what the game’s poor attempt at comic relief is, it is him flirting with women. In the beginning, he just seems interested in Linda, a director of a research lab, in a pretty creepy way, but then he becomes a late-game groper.

Custom Robo BAD
Harry is awful.

As if that isn’t bad enough, during the event when he gropes Marcia, the whole team just shrugs it off and moves on. Nothing is said about his actions afterwards, and none of the characters did anything to stop it. The fact that the writers thought sexual assault was comic relief made me so angry and made me lose respect for the game, which is really disappointing, because everything else was looking so good.

The gameplay was just as amazing as I remember, I was always having fun and planning out my actions, and was forced to pay attention to my enemy’s location so I would know how to outsmart them, and my problems with the lack of needed customization were completely changed. I was switching my loadouts almost every battle to better adapt to the map and enemy I was facing.

The difficulty was quite great, some battles were easy when they were meant to be, but other times Mira absolutely destroyed me every time I fought her because she is literally the best. There were times where I had to overcome a great challenge, and other times I made the greatest villains look like Magikarp, destroying them as they try their hardest to attack me, but kept failing. The fluctuation of difficulty was odd, but worked.

The combat mechanics kept evolving as the game progressed as well. Before every battle, Harry (ew) would tell me about new information I should know before starting the robo battle. Teaching me new skills to use in combat, and luckily, after every single explanation, Custom Robo lets you make Harry angry by making him repeat himself. This was good comic relief. Having Harry give me a large explanation and then having the hero say “Huh, where even am I?” always made me chuckle, and was a chance to anger an awful person.

By far the greatest discovery when replaying Custom Robo was how great the soundtrack was! The hero wakes up every morning to a very relaxing and catchy track played in his apartment as he prepared for the day, and when he enters the world map, another great and relaxing song comes on. I enjoyed every single track I heard in every single place I entered, I enjoyed it so much that I usually stayed everywhere I went for a longer period of time just to listen to the songs.

The battles, however, did not have relaxing music. Instead, they had very upbeat and exciting music to keep the battles intense. I was always on the edge of my seat, focusing on the battle, while also moving to the sound of the awesome music playing, and when it is all over, three sounds play at the end of the battle and the robo does three body movements, one for each of the sounds. This was always a great way to end each battle and brought me joy each time I watched it.

Verdict

Custom Robo is better than I remembered. The customization options no longer felt unneccessary, the supporting characters, except for Harry, were extremely better than I remembered, the soundtrack changed from being a forgettable one to one of my favorite soundtracks, and the plot was a lot more interesting and less confusing than I remembered it being.

Harry is still an aspect of the game that makes me hesitate to recommend this, though. The writing tries to make comedy from sexual harassment and assault and that is something that is obviously very wrong and can’t be excused, and the lack of trying to talk to Harry about his behavior just lessens the likability of all of the other characters as well. Harry is just like this and they accept it.

Due to this, I would have to try to make the argument that the story and the gameplay makes up for the portrayal of harassment. This is an argument I don’t think I can make without it being an apology for the writing itself. I will not defend this, and therefore will not say that the rest of the aspects of the game far outweigh the sometimes disgusting writing, so I will instead say this; Custom Robo is a problematic game, one that has many great aspects, but one bad apple spoils the bunch, and Harry is a disgusting apple that will most likely give you the worst gastroenteritis that you have ever experienced, and it is up to you if you want to buy the bunch. The other apples sure look delicious and perfect, but this bunch includes an apple that looks quite deadly and you can’t remove it.

This is quite heartbreaking. I wanted to just say Custom Robo is perfect and is the best game with customizable robos, but instead I had to explain how games shouldn’t portray sexual harassment and assault like this. For those of you who don’t really care about sexual harassment being in your games (the bad choice), and for those of you wanting a game with customizable robos who will just skip Harry’s awful dialogue (better choice), then Custom Robo is currently around $25, and you can purchase it here. For those of you who won’t support a game that does this, then I completely understand and agree.

Thank you for reading! If you see things you don’t like being portrayed in video games, or any type of media, then make sure to make it clear that you do not want it. This instance was probably due to the time Custom Robo was made, but we must do a better job of taking these things out of games to make gaming better. The next Nostalgia Trial will be about Thrillville, and I hope you read that one as well!