After striking success with Professor Layton and Inazuma Eleven, LEVEL-5 rattled their brains to produce the creative spark that would ignite their next surefire hit. That exploration of ideas resulted in their collaboration with the world-renowned Studio Ghibli to develop Ni no Kuni, rallying Japanese indies in the diverse Guild01 collection, and in Fantasy Life. But, it was also a time in which they had birthed LBX: Little Battlers eXperience.
We can forgive the fact that it originally saw release on PlayStation Portable (PSP) as, having since transitioned to Nintendo 3DS, it becomes the latest game plucked from LEVEL-5’s output that Nintendo has chosen to publish and bring westward. It arrives amidst the expectation lavished on Yo-kai Watch, but this certainly isn’t a game that should be readily dismissed as a mere appetiser.
In 2042, we learn that Tiny Orbit had manufactured tiny robots that were sold as children’s toys. Becoming an overnight success, they were soon taken off store shelves as parents barraged the company with complaints that they were far too dangerous. But research soon resulted in the creation of fortified cardboard that was repurposed into Battle Boxes, four-walled arenas in which children could safely fight each other without being at risk of being harmed by their miniature allies.
These robots are the driving force behind LBX: Little Battlers eXperience’s narrative and existence, with players assuming the role of 13-year old Van Yamano. Despite sharing an unrivalled enthusiasm for LBX, his Mum has forbidden him from ever owning his own robot. But fate has other plans when a scientist entrusts him with a rare prototype model that could threaten the future of the entire world if it fell into the wrong hands. Curiosity piqued.
It’s nice to be surprised once in a while, and, for me at least, LBX: Little Battlers eXperience achieved just that. While largely playing by the same rulebook as Inazuma Eleven, LEVEL-5 diversify away from it in plenty of other areas to allow LBX: Little Battlers eXperience the necessary room to establish its own identity.
Story progression will rely on you to move between designated points as you trigger animated and in-engine cutscenes, with the game’s script delivered by an energetic cast. While spending the majority of your playtime running from A to B can ultimately prove tiresome, it is a necessity in allowing players to level up their LBX by duking it out in random battle encounters along the way.
There can be no question that, away from the narrative, LBX: Little Battlers eXperience entirely centres itself around these battle scenarios. LEVEL-5 aren’t afraid to thrust you into combat, but there’s enough reason for that. Much of the experience involves rewarding the player with new parts and weapons with which they can tinker away at customising their LBX.
With class, grade and weight to consider for armour alone, this is where the game’s depth soon becomes apparent. Players can modify parts by reinforcing or lightening them, resulting in defence increase or decreases and alterations in weight. Whereas the frame that you choose can activate special abilities, and other parts skill parts can affect your LBX’s performance in certain areas.
Beyond this, there’s also the Core Unit to consider, which consists of a CPU, core memory, motor, battery and auxiliary units. These determine which weapon type your LBX can equip and any special attack routines, among other factors. And then, even weapons have their own damage types and elemental attributes, which can exploit weaknesses in the parts of an opposing LBX. Swords, polearms, guns and clubs are just some of those available.
You can tweak your miniature robot for hours on end, and it can certainly be fairly confusing at first. The process could’ve been eased by having an option that would select the optimal parts for you across the board, especially when considering younger players who may feel overwhelmed by the breadth.
The time that you spend will certainly pay off in battle when you’re teamed up with friends Amy Cohen and Kaz Walker. These are largely three-on-three scenarios, players running and leaping across Battle Box battlegrounds as they seek to neutralise the enemies. Weapon variety will mean that some will attack from afar, whereas others will rush to take the fight to close quarters. Early on these felt fairly laboured, but as the game steadily opens up beyond the opening hours more tactical play and more competitive enemy AI helps make every victory all the more rewarding.
Controls are simple to pick up, with movement allowing you to dash, jump and sidestep as necessary, whereas combat opens up to normal, aerial, combo and charge attacks which coincide with more defensive stances. The camera assists in these battle scenarios to help make sure that every strike counts, in allowing players to choose whether their target scope is locked on to a particular opponent or not.
Between battles, you can dash into shops that will sell you new LBX parts, weapons and items, as well as performing maintenance on your robotic companions. You will need to keep an eye on the ‘Maintenance Gage’ as it steadily decreases after each battle, and, once empty, will reward you with fewer Tune-up Points.
Those looking for more to do outside of the story can use Local Play to team up in three-player co-operative matches, or battle with up to six players. However, there’s no Download Play option here, meaning that each player will require their own copy of the game. Success will reward you with Battle Points, that can be used to buy parts in a separate Point Shop for you to customise your LBX.
Otherwise, StreetPass support will see you exchange LBX parts with other players that can then be purchased. Whereas Nintendo has promised to deliver new content through the Downloads menu, as they have previously done with Inazuma Eleven. Although, I have always wondered why LEVEL-5 never chose to implement such mechanic through SpotPass for simplicity.
Nevertheless, LBX: Little Battlers eXperience serves up a memorable tale. With a seemingly unending level of customisation that lets you switch things up whenever you wish, it is an adventure that resonates as a particularly personable one.
Version Tested: Nintendo 3DS
Review copy provided by Nintendo