I’d never heard of Chibi-Robo prior to getting this review copy for Nintendo’s latest handheld platformer. A glance at the character however, revealed an adorable micro-robot who embarked on eco-adventures that was punctuated by happy feelings, all of the time! And on a technical level, this was a character who had starred in several games that routinely placed the mini-mecha in new gameplay scenarios.
So imagine the character being retooled yet again, this time for a handheld adventure that made fair use of some Castlevania influences as Chibi-Robo cleaned up the Earth. Sounds fun, right? Well it certainly is -if you can ignore several problems that drag it down over the course of Chibi-Robos latest adventure.
So here’s the setup; Aliens have invaded Earth, and they’re causing both a ruckus and a mess. Enter Chibi-Robo, the diminutive android, who is out to save the day. Alongside his pal Telly, who resembles an early 2000s Mac PC on a hoverboard, Chibi-Robo needs to clean up the planet and rescue candy. Yes, this is a thing.
It’s classic platforming in Zip-Lash, as Chibi-Robo can ascend further up into a level with his handy whip-plug. At its most basic level, the whip-plug is a short-range whip that can quickly knock out standard enemies. At a more advanced level when you unlock it early in the game, the whip-plug is a multidirectional weapon that can latch onto surfaces and shatter objects which the standard attack can’t reach.
The trick here is that each stage starts with Chibi-Robo having to collect power-ups that extend the length of his plug, allowing him to use it to ricochet off of walls and enemies. And it’s a pretty rad feature, with Chibi-Robo using it to bounce around levels, skateboard and fly around in some stages. The world layouts cater to this mechanic, with a vertical design that hides collectibles and some nifty boss fights.
Chibi-Robo runs on electricity however, so taking damage or falling down a gorge results in a power crisis of Eskom levels if his meter isn’t periodically recharged at access points. It’s a simple formula of exploration, combat and hunting for trash to earn Watts that powers Chibi-Robo. At that basic level, the game works perfectly competently.
But then it gets hit with some baffling design choices.
The biggest complaint that you’ll hear is the exclusion of a proper level select feature when you finish a stage. Instead of merely progressing to the next stage and having an option to return to previous encounters, Chibi-Robo has to instead play a game of Win ‘n Spin. The Destination Wheel that you spin has one of several numbers on it. Hit the right number, and you can progress to the next stage. Hit the wrong number, and you’re forced to replay a level, which gets old really, really quickly when you start finishing them and find yourself in a loop.
Now granted, you can choose to buy new numbers for the Destination Wheel, using the in-game currency of moolah. It also renders the idea of the Destination Wheel as completely redundant then, and a bigger waste of time than learning how to code in Turbo Pascal. It’s only once you’ve finally finished all the stages in a world, that you have free access to them. As a game-extending mechanic, the Destination Wheel is absolutely terrible.
And for completionists, the quest for candy can be a mind-numbingly mundane chore. Candy product placements aren’t inherently bad, but Chibi-Robo worships them more than a mid-90s commercial, as NPCs beg the little bot to scour levels and retrieve the sugary treats for them. There’s a certain charm to seeing real-world candies in the game, but the spotlight-hogging that they garner is truly bizarre.
And while the stage and level designs are easily highlight here, it’s that in-between fluff that derails any momentum in the game. Chibi-Robo’s enemies are hardly threatening, and pack the menace of a runaway pensioner at best as they slowly amble towards you.
Chibi-Robo Ziplash is the kind of game that I wanted to love, but it just wouldn’t let me. It’s the very definition of wasted potential.
Last Updated: November 4, 2015