Level-5's LBX: Little Battlers eXperience is a simplistic RPG based on a popular kid’s show about tiny merchandisable robots. But deep within, what you find is a complex and entertaining action-RPG that is never fully betrayed by the nature of its premise. While LBX’s clunky design choices often hold it back, it surprisingly exceeds initial impressions with charming presentation, satisfying combat, and loads of deep customization.
LBX’s story takes place in a futuristic world where children play with LBX, which are miniature robots purchased at retail used to fight in competitive battles. It follows the adventures of Van Yamano, a child--who after being given a powerful top-secret LBX--becomes involved in a plot to save the world with his friends. Despite having occasional cheesy melodramatic narrative beats, LBX’s story manages to remain interesting thanks to a well-paced narrative, charming characters, and an unexpectedly sympathetic villain. The story is also complemented by colorful visuals that bring its world and the LBX to life.
In LBX, you spend your time walking around the city of Tokio, moving the story forward by exploring corridor-heavy dungeon areas filled with random encounters, gaining new characters in your party, challenging fellow LBX users to fights, and occasionally completing side-quests to acquire special items. The bulk of these experiences are mostly what you'd expect from a typical RPG, but what gives LBX its unique appeal is its major centerpiece: LBX battles.
LBX battles take place in fortified cardboard boxes, which are miniature scale arenas that serve as the main battlegrounds for combat. Depending on what the game calls "regulations," battles can be setup in a variety of different formats, such as 1v1, 3v3, or best 3 out of 5. Initiated in the game world via scripted or random encounters, you go into battle with a party of up to three LBX users from your group in fast-paced real-time combat where you brawl against enemy LBX using a variety of different weapons, like swords, spears, rifles, and machine guns. Combat is genuinely exciting due to its speed and chaotic nature, especially during 3v3 matches when LBX are zipping around and attacking from all sides.
The real-time action combat system in LBX is also surprisingly engaging and methodical. This is helped in part by the Tension Gauge, which is a meter that depletes when an LBX attacks, speed dashes, or jumps, but then recharges over time. When the gauge is fully depleted, your attacks will only do single-digit damage. The Tension Gauge is a simple mechanic, but it’s a balanced one that punishes button-mashing, and rewards you for carefully observing your opponents and quickly striking when the time is right. As a result, LBX's reliance on a healthy mix of offensive and defensive tactics makes its combat system fulfilling.
But for as much as LBX’s combat excels, there are issues with the movement system that sometimes get in the way of your enjoyment. This comes from a delay that occurs after landing from a jump. It may not seem like a big issue at first, but it becomes frustrating during more intense fights, when you have to move quickly and accurately. Firing a gun and running at the same time can also be troublesome due to inconsistent animations, which stop you in your tracks if you don’t run at the right angle. These issues are irritating and detract from the flow of an otherwise enjoyable combat system.
While battles are a huge part of LBX, you spend a lot of your time customizing these tiny robots. As you play the game, you stockpile a mountain of money that you can use to purchase weapons, parts, and accessories for your rag tag party of LBX. With hundreds of items to choose from, there are plenty of options here to tailor your robot to fit your play style. There are also options that allow you to be more meticulous, such as adjusting parts to modify your LBX’s defense and speed attributes, to configuring weapons with specific elemental affinities in order to exploit enemy weaknesses. This allows for a great sense of creativity and strategy, and you ultimately spend hours tailoring your LBX with the right parts and weapons they needed to fill out different group roles.
The customization available in LBX makes for a delightful feature, but it does have issues. Cumbersome menus make equipping parts and items a chore, especially after combat, where it's constantly required for you to re-stock your LBX with healing items from your stash. Even more frustrating is being restricted from equipping items that were put onto LBX users who temporarily leave your party, which pulls their equipment out of rotation. Luckily, you can create and save different loadouts, however, the aforementioned problem remains an issue unless you fork over extra money to buy two, or even three of the same item. You will have to get used to these issues, because customizing and battling LBXs are the game's bread and butter.
Combat is at the heart of everything; the campaign, side-quests, mini-games, and the local PVP mode. LBX doesn't have online multiplayer, but you can battle in the local, ranked multiplayer mode if you're feeling extra competitive. Unfortunately, without online multiplayer, you're reliant on the community of other LBX players in your area to provide competition. You may never get to experience a full, six-player battle--or the race to the top--if LBX doesn't catch on in your town, but the game offers plenty of LBX Battles to sink your teeth into, if little else.
With solid presentation, combat, and customization, LBX: Little Battler’s eXperience is a satisfying game that is more involved than it seems. It’s not without its faults, including unwieldy, sometimes tedious design, but to write it off as just another kid’s RPG would do it a massive disservice. Level-5 has created an action-RPG that--even with its faults--is still an entertaining offering.
Editor's Note: This review has been updated to include details of LBX's local play multiplayer features.