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Building the perfect bot

‘Robot Arena’ might make you want to smash something besides robots. Games hed: Building the perfect bot dek: ‘Robot Arena’ might make you want to smash something besides robots.

You may consider cable TV’s Comedy Central only as the home of “South Park” and countless lame stand-up comics, but it also boasts one of the most unabashedly entertaining shows around: “Battlebots.” The show, which pits homemade remote-control robots in one-on-one duels to the death, has not inspired its own game yet, but WizardWorks and Infogrames are there to fill the void with “Robot Arena.”

The game concept sounds fun, and it is–to a point. You’re given a budget of $1,000 to trick out your customized fighter bot, building from the chassis on up. You can blow your whole stipend on top-of-the-line titanium armor, or you might wish to load up with weapons such as buzz saws and battle-axes. But don’t spend all your money on construction, because you’ll need to save a few bucks for betting on your creation come battle time–that’s how you progress in “Robot Arena.”

Once your monster is ready to rumble, you can engage it in practice rounds, or get right down to the nitty-gritty. You can fight your opponent to the death, or you can have a flag match, in which you try to capture a flag attached to your adversary’s bot. Battles are fought in one of seven arenas, each of which has its own hazards and obstacles, such as spears shooting out of the floor.

It sounds like fun, and it should be lots more fun than it actually is. The first few times I played, I was still getting my sea legs when it came to using the weapons and other features of my bot. Therefore, I was forced to rely on brute strength and basically use my bot as a battering ram. Bad idea. You can build up the biggest head of steam possible and crash into your opponent without leaving a scratch. And by the time you figure out how to make your creation do its thing via the keyboard (if you lack a gamepad), you’ve been counted out.

From that standpoint, the game is hard on beginners. From another, it’s even more frustrating for accomplished players. The artificial-intelligence engine in “Robot Arena”–if there even is one–is pretty feeble. Instead of increasing their skill along with that of human players, the computer’s bots seem to improve only in predetermined increments. It won’t take long for you to look for a challenge beyond the game’s parameters, and that’s where its multiplayer mode should come in handy. But in checking out feedback from players who’ve tried it, results from the game’s multiplayer mode have ranged from anticlimactic to disastrous.

Given its limitations, “Robot Arena” might be best for kids. It probably won’t be the bot-battling paradise you might have been seeking, but until such a game comes along (an official “Battlebots” game, perhaps?), it will do–especially given its reasonable $19.99 price.

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