Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Skip Ltd.
Release Date: 2/6/06
When I say Nintendo, what comes to mind? Goofy action adventure games, big on character and amusement, yeah? Perhaps Mario, Donkey Kong, or Pokemon? Okay, what about when I say weird Japanese games? Katamari Damacy, Mister Mosquito, Mad Maestro, Gitaroo Man? Okay, so when I say to put both together, what do you think of? Mario rolling a ball around while Luigi conducts an orchestra, Link plays the guitar, and Samus snowboards down a mountain, avoiding robbers and rolling snowballs, only to jump off at the end and fly off to drain some blood from your bathing aunt?
Well, that one kind of took on a life of its own, didn’t it?
Anyway, no, we’re not dealing with that absurd example I just crapped out (thank god); instead, we’ve been granted Chibi Robo. Here’s the skinny: you’re a three inch tall stainless steel (I assume) robot who runs around the house cleaning up messes made by others. It hardly sounds like game of the year material, to be sure, but it’s certainly different, and different equals good, right? Okay, that’s not entirely true, but it’s always nice to see a company try something a little different, even if it means I’m playing as a pint size Dot Matrix. So let’s give it a spin and see if it’s a clean sweep or if it belongs in the trash bin.
God almighty, my puns just keep getting worse and worse.
The story, in simple terms, is that you are the super-wonderful Chibi-Robo, or specifically, a Chibi-Robo. You are presently in the possession of the Sanderson family, a group of people who are more screwed up than the Tanamatsuri family (no, I’m not explaining that, go look it up). The house in which you live is simultaneously in a constant state of mess, and also a location of weird happenings. Toys come alive, Spydors attack at random intervals, giant robots lay unpowered in the basement, you name it, it’s screwed up and in this house.
The story is incredibly off the wall, but also retains a highly endearing charm that will keep you interested if and when the gameplay mechanics begin to wear on you. The various characters that populate the house have actual personalities, screwed up though they are, and you grow to like them simply because, for the most part, they ARE likeable. You’ll meet everything from a talking worm-like dog toy to the Free Rangers, soldiers that look like eggs, in the Sanderson house, and each toy is more amusing than the last. And hey, it’s a Nintendo game with potential divorce as a subplot; it’s not every day you see that. Ultimately, while the story concepts are perhaps a bit basic, the actual execution of said concepts is spot on and well developed, and you’ll be hard pressed to find something as interestingly written as Chibi Robo.
Story Rating: 7/10
Well, Chibi-Robo looks cute, if primitive. The game is almost entirely presented from Chibi-Robo’s scale, so as a result, everything that is around his size looks dramatically better than anything far above his size. While this does keep the frame rate stable, it’s jarring to compare, say, Chibi himself to Mr. Sanderson, for example. Most of the game characters suffer from “mittens”, IE not having any actual opposable digits, which is slightly lame in this day and age. Clipping rears its ugly head from time to time as well.
That said, the game maintains a distinct style, even through its slightly primitive graphics, that is hard not to appreciate. The game world is stylish while still maintaining the “homey” feel that is asked of it. The various absurdities the game throws at you all seem to be in place, oddly enough, and the graphical presentation plays a part in this. I guess when you’re a three inch tall robot with a talking flying television as a sidekick, things seem less absurd somehow. Regardless, based solely on its appearance, it’s hard not to appreciate Chibi-Robo, which is probably the nicest thing I can say about it.
Graphics Rating: 7/10
The in-game music is solid, though it falls squarely into the category of “unnoticeable”; you wouldn’t miss it, but it doesn’t offend. Chibi-Robo relies more on the sound effects than the music to aurally carry the game, and in that regard, it more or less succeeds. Performing various acts produces all sorts of amusing sound effects, from the Bob Ross-esque notes that play as you scrub the floor, to the rolling notes that play when you plug in to charge up, to the melodic sounds that play when you throw out the trash. All of the noises come together to make the game an aurally entertaining experience.
The same cannot be said of the voices, however. There isn’t actual voice acting, per say… when characters speak, it sounds like a cross between Simlish and Animal Crossing speak. This, in and of itself, is fine. Characters tend to repeat the same sounds over again while talking, which isn’t usually that big of a deal. That said, the voice of Telly Vision, Chibi-Robo’s mascot/manager, is nails on chalkboard annoying. The first few times you hear it, it’s acceptable enough, but after four or five hours of that voice, you want to stick a fork in your ears.
Telly’s voice aside, the game sounds great, and assuming you can tune him out, you’ll enjoy everything else quite a bit I imagine. I did, anyway.
Sound Rating: 7/10
If you’ve played one adventure/platformer game, you’ve pretty much played them all, and the same tends to hold true here. Chibi-Robo is your standard multi-purpose hero in a world of chaos, only monsters and villains are replaced by paw prints and cookie crumbs. Chibi himself can run around, climb onto and hop off of stuff, pick up various and sundry items around the environment, etc, as would be expected. What keeps the game interesting is not what Chibi does, but how he goes about it. Instead of using guns to blast monsters, Chibi is given tools like a water squirter and a toothbrush to achieve his goal, that being, making the people in the house happy. Not that there aren’t monsters or guns; Chibi has some of that sort of gameplay throughout the course of the game, but more time is spent cleaning the floor and picking up trash than is spent shooting spider robots.
Most of your time is spent navigating the game world, however, and that’s where the fun comes in. Trying to figure out how to get to that Frog Ring up on the bookshelf, or getting a tool that makes places one could not reach before instantly accessible is half of the fun in CR. In a lot of respects, the game is like something akin to The Legend of Zelda or Tomb Raider, only inside someone’s house. The pathfinding can occasionally become monotonous, but trying to balance your power levels with the locations you want to explore is more often thought provoking and entertaining than frustrating, though your mileage may vary.
Chibi himself is fairly responsive for the most part, as are his various tools. Collision detection is solid, and you’ll rarely find Chibi falling through parts of the level or, conversely, standing in thin air. The game plays well enough, and there are all sorts of little touches throughout the game world that evoke small bits of amusement (having to turn your own plug in Chibi Doors, pull out drawers to scale shelves, or picking up your own plug to run faster). Chibi’s tools are also pretty neat; using a toothbrush to scrub up dirt on the floor or a teaspoon to dig holes and plant flowers makes perfect sense considering the scale of the game, and that all adds to the presentation nicely. And the costumes he’s given, while they do little (if anything) to change the gameplay, are pretty neat, especially the poses associated with each. Personally, I liked the body cast costume the best; watching Chibi Robo fall over like he’s dead never gets old.
Some of the elements of the game are, unfortunately, not as functional as others. The camera, while not broken, isn’t entirely friendly, and you may find yourself having to fiddle with your angles while moving lest you plunge off of a ledge (the Free Rangers banister running test is a prime example). The physical combat you engage in with the Spydors and such is acceptable, but it seems kind of unnecessary, especially since the remainder of the game is so light-hearted and silly. Also, Chibi seems to pick and choose what ledges he can pull himself up on to, and he can’t jump unless the game dictates it, both of which seem pretty stupid and forced. And, of course, there are the aforementioned Chibi Doors, which only Chibi Robo can open, as they’re secret coin-bearing areas. The Sanderson house is equipped to the brim with them, and it seems a bit much that on top of everything else, there are these random doors in the house that neither Telly nor the Sandersons know anything about. Altogether, these are minor issues, and while they may discolor your experience (or maybe not), the overall package is still pretty damn enjoyable if you can take it for what it is.
Control/Gameplay Rating: 7/10
Chibi-Robo is certainly an interesting game, but after completing the game once, there’s not much reason to return, except to find and unlock that which you missed the first time. Much like any platform-based game on the market, there are all sorts of hidden areas to access and hidden items to find, so if you miss them on your first go-round, you might want to go back and find them all. Unfortunately, the cleaning dynamic doesn’t hold up to multiple plays, so you might find yourself uninterested in returning to the game, simply because you won’t want to be bothered going through what the game asks of you once you’re done. Still, CR is an interesting enough product to play through once, and if you’re a fan of weird Japanese gaming, you might find enough here to justify multiple playthroughs.
Replayability Rating: 5/10
Chibi-Robo isn’t exactly difficult or challenging in the standard sense; the game amounts to little more than resource management (CR’s power meter) and path-finding. Attempting to figure out how to get from the nearest power socket to the location you want to get to without running out of battery power is half of the challenge of the game, and it’s executed quite well for the most part. Occasionally, you may find yourself somewhere with next to no battery power left and no outlets in sight, but this is pretty rare. The game will point out where it thinks you ought to go next, but doesn’t tell you HOW to get there, which helps to keep things interesting; having to figure out how to do what needs doing is half of the challenge, after all. Those of minimal logical thinking skill or those of younger ages might find some of the areas frustrating to complete, but if you’re willing to sit down and think things out a little to enjoy your game, you’ll find plenty of challenge here to keep you entertained.
Balance Rating: 8/10
Under the surface, Chibi-Robo amounts to little more than your standard 3D platforming adventure game, but the style and presentation presented more than makes up for it. Playing as a three inch tall cleaning robot as you use a toothbrush to scrub up dog footprints is quite beyond anything I’ve done in a video game up until this point (Indigo Prophecy notwithstanding). Between the odd play mechanics, the interesting storyline, and the off-the-wall cast of characters, CR transcends the basic building blocks on which it is created to make a thoroughly original product. It’s no Katamari Damacy, but I sincerely doubt you’ve played anything quite like it.
Originality Rating: 8/10
Chibi-Robo’s interesting presentation and style will certainly be addictive for the first few hours of gameplay, as you’ll actively find yourself looking forward to seeing what the game does next. Unfortunately, as the game progresses, it becomes more standard in its execution, akin to most standard adventure games. While fans of the genre may still find plenty to keep them coming back, those who don’t find themselves appreciating the actual genre or its conventions might not find much to keep them interested once they hit the halfway point.
Addictiveness Rating: 6/10
9. APPEAL FACTOR
Do you like fruity, off-the-wall Japanese video gaming? How about obscure, original game titles? Perhaps you want something cute and amusing to fool around with? If so, this is right up your alley. Otherwise, you’re probably not going to find anything interesting here. The largest appeal problem the game has against it is the “cleaning” dynamic; several reviews have already stated that doing chores within a video game seems tedious. However, if you can look at the cleaning as it should be looked at (more item collecting, like in most adventure games these days) you’ll find it less tiresome. Overall, Chibi-Robo is pretty much the poster child for “not for everyone”, but if you’ve been looking for something new and different, be sure to check this out.
Appeal Rating: 5/10
I’m honestly not a huge fan of this kind of game, but I actually had a lot of fun with Chibi-Robo. It’s youthful without being childish, engaging without being overbearing, and complex without being confusing. If you’re one of those Gamecube only gamers out there, and you’re looking down the game list sighing at the lack of titles coming down the pipe, I’d have to strongly point you in the direction of CR, as it’s an amusing little diversion that will keep you entertained.
That said, there’s one major flaw I take with CR the longer I play it: it’s hard to explain WHY it’s so entertaining. Most games usually have simple explanations for why they’re fun/good/whatever. Resident Evil 4, for example, is fun because I like to shoot things inna face. R-Type Final, also as an example, is fun because it’s fun to fly around in space and shoot stuff. But games of this type, IE the conceptually bizarre Japanese games that have begun finding their way ashore as of recent, are much harder to define, because they do things that, when described to others, don’t sound so fun.
“This game’s great because I roll a ball around and pick stuff up with it to make a bigger ball!”
“Wow! This game’s awesome because I can use a construction shovel to ladle curry onto rice!”
See what I mean? So how am I supposed to explain to people, briefly, what’s fun about cleaning up the house of a family of slobs? It’s far more complex than one might think.
All that said, this little game has found a small but special place in my heart. I’m not going to say “run out and buy it”, but I’m definitely going to recommend renting it to all of you GC owners with a taste for the obscure. Even if you don’t like everything it does, I think you’ll be pleased with it.
Miscellaneous Rating: 7/10
Overall Score: 6.7/10
Final Score: 6.5 (FAIR).
Short Attention Span Summary
While it’s not for everyone, Chibi Robo does enough new and familiar stuff in conjunction that it ends up as a fun experience for more people than you might think. The concept will most likely scare casual gamers away, but if you can get past that, Chibi Robo offers up plenty of weird fun, certainly enough to justify giving it a spin. Thumbs up.