There's something in the Japanese psyche that just loves tiny. Tall trees are cultivated into bonsai, hotel rooms reduced to capsule living spaces, and even game consoles made to fit in your back pocket.
Still, when it comes to battle bots, you'd have thought huge, hulking mecha would be the way to go. Not so in Custom Robo Arena. Instead, this combination of Pokémon meets Robot Wars takes place on a microscopic scale – your goal to mix-and-match different warlike parts to create the ultimate miniature metallic warrior in the hope of becoming the champion of the Great Robo Cup Tournament.
Yes, as always seems to be the way with such games, before you get your hands on the hardware you have to endure the vagaries of the Story mode. And so you end up in the shoes of a young student at Midheart High School.
Frankly, it's a lacklustre two-dimensional role-playing world, both visually and atmospherically, where you have to engage dippy characters in dull conversations to open up new areas and gain access to other Custom Robo battlers. In between, everyone repeatedly utters inane phrases about posing their robos or losing their special parts. The dialogue almost made us lose our will to play.
Thankfully though, one of these daft personas eventually challenges you to a battle, at which point the real game begins.
This action takes place in a special 3D environment called a holosseum and begins as the robots, which are contained in a box, are thrown into play. It's a strange mechanic – much like throwing a die at the start of a boardgame – as depending on how they land, you'll get a random advantage or disadvantage in terms of getting the first attack in.
The battles themselves are fully 3D, with colourful, if slightly confusing blocky graphics, and occur in real-time on the top screen.
You move your robo around the small square arenas using the D-pad, while attacks are issued with the shoulder and face buttons. Vital data such as parts damage, ammunition levels and hit points is shown on the touchscreen. There's no support for your stylus, however; battles occur at such a breakneck pace you'll have little time to deflect your eyes from the action.
You'll want to keep your focus on evading incoming attacks by jumping around and hiding behind walls, while trying to land your own knock-out blows. Varying your attacks not only ensures increased damage, but rewards you with greater experience and money.
It's in these battles that Custom Robo Arena's mixture of tactical and strategic depth comes to the fore. You'll need fast reactions to successfully fight, but you'll also need to play to the strengths of your robo's load-out, as well as knowing how to vary it in terms of your opponent, their fighting style and the arena itself.
Each Custom Robo possesses five part types: body, legs, pod, gun and bomb. Body determines a robo's sturdiness, while legs influence how fast they move and high they jump. Pod, gun, and bomb parts correspond to your robo's three weapons systems, with the pod offering the most powerful and rare weapons, such as fire-and-forget missiles or proximity mines. There are over 150 different body parts in total, providing plenty of variation, as well as an incentive to keep winning so you can gain the shiny coins you need to buy more parts.
Upgrading your robo is crucial in beating opponents, not only in Story mode but also in the various wi-fi modes that really make the game worth playing. These are all one-on-one, and can either be played using the local wireless connection (via game sharing and multicard play), or using the global Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.
The latter also supports a voice chat feature, so before and after a bout you can chat to people on your friends' list. And since you don't have to sit through any frivolous in-game dialogue, you can whittle away hours in battle after intense battle. Each bout's short duration – three minutes, best of three – works very well for online play, offering quick matches that are fast, furious, and fun.
Off-line, the flaws of the Story mode remain. If you're not into multiplayer gaming, this probably isn't the game for you. But for those with robo-obsessed friends or who enjoy being competitive on the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, Custom Robo Arena absolutely nails tiny robot combat.