Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Chibi-Robo Review!

Hey guys, in between Netto, Leafs and I working on the upcoming Top 10, I got a big urge to pick up one of my favorite games again. I enjoyed it so much, as always, that I decided to write a review for it here. This game is way too underrated and I'd love to do all I can to get it some more attention. Before you read though, I would like to let you know that there are some spoilers in this review, although they're a bit minor.

It was 2005. The GameCube had already seen its fair share of unique IPs and interesting rethinkings of some of Nintendo's older series. The DS had come to succeed the Game Boy Advance and it was just a matter of time until the Nintendo Revolution (later renamed the Nintendo Wii) was released to replace the GameCube. It seemed like the good old purple 'Cube had seen the last of its unique and creative games.
Rewind a year or two; Skip Ltd. are working on a brand new game for the Nintendo GameCube. A game about a tiny robot, moving around large human environments, you had to help him by raising him up to be able to run home without getting stolen by burglars. It appeared to be a point and click sort of game, where the robot could pick up spare batteries in the environment and use them to increase its own battery life. From screenshots released, it seems like the robot lived in the house of a scientist or professor, possibly his creator, and he would recharge by plugging himself into an orange GameCube-like device.

(What's odd about the videos we've seen is that the character models looked better back then.)

But alas, this project fell through. Skip couldn't figure out how to make the game interesting, or maybe they didn't get enough support for it. But for whatever reason, Skip cancelled the production of this new IP. All hope was not lost, however, as the project caught the eye of Shigeru Miyamoto, the creative mind he is. Miyamoto thought that the project held great potential and offered to work with Skip to find a way to bring it to light, and after working for a year or two, they managed to vastly improve the game and see it to a full worldwide release.
Enter Chibi Robo! This underrated little gem was one of the GameCube's last original IPs. Chibi-Robo is a game where you play as the titular six-inch robot as you clean house for a dysfunctional family while helping them through their problems, as well as solving the problems of the toys in the house, which mysteriously come to life when no one's around.

The game starts during a birthday party in the Sanderson family's living room, it's young Jenny Sanderson's eighth birthday. Her mother gives her a hat as a gift, but Jenny refuses the gift. Convinced that she is a frog, she constantly wears a hat that resembles a frog's head, and talks with only ribbits. Meanwhile, her cheery father brings out a much more expensive present... against his wife's wishes and without minding the family budget, Jenny's father purchased a Chibi-Robo, claiming that his daughter had asked for it, but really he just wanted it himself. He flips the switch on the metal container...
And out comes Chibi-Robo, and his manager, Telly Vision. The duo are designed to make families happy, simple as that. The gameplay of Chibi-Robo primarily focuses on cleaning to achieve that. You start playing in the Sanderson living room, the night after the birthday party, where you'll find yourself picking up trash left around after the party ended. But before long... you'll encounter a living toy! Writing in a diary no less. She tells you that all of the toys in the house are alive, and that she thought it was normal. After that short conversation she goes back to writing in her diary and you're left to your own devices again. Soon after you should meet an eccentric fellow named Drake Redcrest, or rather, a toy based on him. An action figure of the lead hero of the popular show Space Hunter: Drake Redcrest, Drake patrols the living room for evil, claiming to fight for justice, but he's also in turmoil. Just what IS justice? And what IS evil? He wonders this constantly, but despite this, he persists his efforts to protect the Sanderson household. He's also a very large ham.




Going back to cleaning, you'll eventually come across a toothbrush that belongs to Jenny's father. He, being asleep, doesn't notice that you take it and proceed to use it to clean stains and footprints off of the floor. The main rewards for doing all of these tasks are money (called "Moolah") and Happy Points. Happy Points improve your rank amongst other Chibi-Robos, one of your ultimate goals being to become the number one Chibi-Robo. Moolah can be used in the Chibi-House to buy items and upgrades from the Chibi PC. You earn Happy Points every time you clean a stain off of the floor, and you occasionally get cleaning bonuses for cleaning a lot of these stains up, which reward you with a large amount of both Happy Points and Moolah, while throwing refuse into a garbage can will give you Happy Points and Moolah with each piece of trash you throw away.

Another way to earn Moolah is by plugging yourself into one of the many Chibi-Doors placed around the house, which lead to strange, warped alternate dimensions with lots of Chibi-Robo eyes staring at you. They contain mass amounts of Moolah, which can be very helpful in gaining lots of it if necessary.

Chibi-Robo runs on battery power, and during the first night he doesn't have a very large battery to work off of, so you'll have to find some of the outlets scattered around the rooms and plug yourself in to recharge regularly. If you run out of battery power, Chibi-Robo will collapse and Telly Vision will carry you back to the Chibi-House. There's not much of a penalty for this (and you actually have to do it once to get a certain item), but you will lose some Moolah for it. You can get larger batteries by reaching Chibi ranking milestones, but there isn't much to do during the first night other than meet a couple of toys and clean up the room. When time runs out during the night, you go back to the Chibi-House and then it becomes day, or vice versa if it was day. Your Happy Points are then calculated into your Chibi ranking and you receive bonus batteries if you reach a milestone.
For the next day or two you'll continue cleaning, encounter a few more toys and gather more items that can help you perform other tasks, before you reach the basement of the house. Therein... you find the hulking inactive shell of the massive Giga-Robo, an "ancestor" to Chibi-Robo. The poor robot's battery is empty and he's missing his left leg, but for some reason Chibi gets the urge to plug himself into an outlet on the robot's hip. He receives a surge of electricity and after a conversation with a concerned Telly Vision, Chibi collapses, having apparently fried his circuits. While unconscious, Chibi has a dream of sorts, where he sees the past memories of Giga-Robo, presumably downloaded when he plugged into it. He sees that the robot was a loved member of the family before his upkeep and electricity costs became too high, and they had to store him away in the basement.

Chibi-Robo wakes up after this dream, much to the joy of the worried Telly Vision, and they are then approached by a wooden pirate toy by the name of Captain Plankbeard. Plankbeard then requests that Chibi-Robo attempt to reactivate Giga-Robo. This is where the real game starts.

The cleaning element of the gameplay ends up being very insignificant, although not unenjoyable. More trash and floor stains generally appear at the beginning of every day and night, so you'll probably start out each day/night cycle by cleaning up a bit. It's your main source of receiving Happy Points and Moolah, but the actual focus of the game is on character interaction and, true to Chibi's purpose, making people happy directly. This generally involves completing sidequests, which let you experience more of a character's story, and also gives you Happy Points and Moolah, if you do something that does make them happy. Most of the characters being original designed toys, this can get really interesting, as their designs and personalities get extremely varied, and their sidequests play out as enjoyable (and sometimes dark, although played out in a sort of child-friendly manner) stories that tell you a lot about the characters in question.
There's also the combat... before you can reach the second floor, you have to encounter the main enemies of the game: the Spydorz. They travel in packs and come with a very loud and engaging metal battle theme. They'll try to latch onto you and suck your battery power away, but you can shake them off. To destroy them, you need to buy the Chibi-Blaster from the Chibi PC, but when you do destroy them, you can collect scrap metal from their ruined heaps and use it to build Utilibots, things like ladders and teleporters specifically built for Chibi's use. Really the combat is very underplayed here compared to what it could be, as the Spydorz spawn randomly, but they're never any sort of threat, and they die in one shot. They tend to be nothing more than ways to get scrap metal.

Not only that but the combat is rather awkward and uninteresting as well. You control exactly the same with the Chibi-Blaster out, so you generally just end up sort of wandering around, mashing A to shoot them. You can go into first person and shoot, but all you can do is aim. It's no Metroid Prime, which would've actually been nicer than what they ended up doing with the combat.

One of the nice touches in this game actually, is that almost everything you do produces music. Taking a step plays an instrument sound depending on what surface you're standing on, and most of the time when you're doing a task it'll play some kind of musical instrument or small song. The game is very music-oriented, and it's a pleasant quirk that keeps the game interesting and active. It also shows through the soundtrack, which is just as brilliant. The graphics, however, do not shine so brightly. Some of the models would look subpar even on the Sega Dreamcast, and a lot of the animations are outright lazy, but this is mostly just with the Sandersons. Most of the toys, and especially anything directly related to Chibi-Robo, all look very good and have a unique design that gives the game a wonderful personality.
The general style of the game is very nice as well. Set in 60's-70's suburban America, it really shows with the vintage decor as well as the themes that play in the house. The house itself also serves as an interesting world to romp around in as a six inch robot. If you've ever played the Toy Story 2 game on the N64/PS1, it's a lot like that. Playing as such a small character in a massive world that is perceived as regular sized by us is a pretty interesting experience, using everyday objects as necessary stepping stones to make any ground in an area, it remains a fun concept.

One minor thing I enjoyed is that after a certain point, Chibi-Robo can read his own instruction manual, and while it does tell you about how to play a bit, it actually does more to provide character exposition and somewhat explain just what Chibi is thinking. It's a creative way to express this to the player that I thought was really charming.

The game does have a few of negatives, though. As good as it is, it's VERY short, like a lot of good GCN games. The game is so sidequest oriented that nearly all of the characters who AREN'T the Sandersons don't progress the plot at all, meaning that it's very easy to rush through the game and eventually finish the story in less than 12 hours. Although the sidequests are fun and provide good character exposition for already interesting characters, they're also completely unnecessary for the most part. Also, while the battery starts out as a creative gimmick, it becomes a bit of a hassle after not too long. Navigating the environments, which can get tiring itself, requires quite a few actions, some which take a significant amount of battery power to execute. It's slightly tedious recharging over and over, but it's nothing too bad. Cleaning up could become repetetive as well, but I never had a problem with it personally. The early game is also very dialogue and tutorial heavy, but it doesn't last too long.

Really with how much I like this game, those are the only real gameplay flaws I can find in it, and they don't really affect my opinion of it. This is such a unique and fresh experience that I enjoy playing though every time. Chibi-Robo was one of those games that didn't get enough attention at its release for being different. It got a sequel for the DS a few years later that wasn't as good as the original, and on top of that was only sold at Wal-Mart. Because of that, the third game wasn't even released in America, and the Wii port of the first game was denied a release here by Nintendo of America. Please, if you ever have the chance pick up this wonderful game before it becomes too obscure to obtain. I'm sure it'll be worth your time.

I give thie game a 9 out of 10, none of the problems really bother me except for the length, and none of the sidecharacters' stories progress the main story at all, making them completely optional. Aside from that, this still remains one of my favorite games, that I still hope will grow to be appreciated more.

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