Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Good: Puzzles, depth
Bad: So-so presentation
Don't fear: The cutesy image
In the waning months of Nintendo 64's life span, we saw a slew of great titles in Perfect Dark, Conker and Majora's Mask. With Twilight Princess on the horizon, I was hoping that the Gamecube would depart in much the same way. Although it's on a lesser scale, Chibi-Robo can be remembered as one of the great titles in the Gamecube's last days.
The Sandersons seem like your typical suburban family. A blank expression graces the mother, the dog is clueless and the dad fumbles haplessly trying to please the starry-eyed daughter with a cool gift for her birthday. And what does she get? A tiny robot named Chibi-Robo that does household chores of course!
After a brief run through of the controls, the game begins the morning after the party, with trash scattered everywhere in the Sanderson's living room. In order to obtain Happy Points (yes, I said Happy Points), Chibi must scrub and clean the house. But doing activity drains battery life, so you'll have to slightly tailor your chores to land near an outlet to recharge yourself once you get low.
Your companion Telly-vision aides in training you as you go, giving you tips and hints to collect enough credit to become Super Chibi-Robo and further upgrades. As the game progresses, the Sandersons become more and more dysfunctional, giving Chibi more happiness to spread, expanding his chores to bedrooms, the basement and the backyard.
The title really hits its stride when much of the training stops and you can freely explore the house, looking for things to do and specific tasks to accomplish for the Sandersons that are outside of the normal picking up of trash and scrubbing. Many of the retrieval objectives have sophisticated puzzle elements involved that integrate the entire environment seamlessly. Chibi will have to use his copter attachment, climb, jump and possibly use other gadgets and tools along the way to complete certain tasks.
One of the main ways that you know you're progressing through the game is that some areas are too far to reach with the small battery you begin with. So upgrading with a longer-lasting cell will allow you to travel farther without having to recharge. But don't worry, the environment is highly interactive and seeing the world from a four-inch tall perspective really makes a one-house game seem like an entire city.
One of the greatest and most charming elements of Chibi's world is how the toys come alive once the Sanderson's go to sleep. You'll meet a quirky cast of talking toys that all have a story to tell and personality to give.
The gameplay isn't completely devoid of action, though. Later you can acquire a blaster that will allow you to blow away little droidlets in order to collect their parts. With these parts you can construct ladders and devices that allow you to get to a place you couldn't normally get to, to complete a task. You will also garner new suits that give you special abilities. One suit lets you interpret the dog. Another pajama costume allows you to change day to night. You can even acquire a ghost costume to scare those around you.
The game controls really well. Chibi will automatically jump or climb to a ledge by merely pressing against it. There are many context sensitive actions that need to be performed that all come off without a hitch. There are a plethora of upgrades and tools for Chibi to use and buy with his moolah throughout the game, which will extend the life greatly. The main mode can be completed in about seven hours, but that's if you're rushing, not trying to enjoy the purpose of the game. Sometimes, Telly-vision can be way too thorough and some of his training monologues can't be skipped.
The character and environment models are pretty standard and don't push any part of the hardware to any limit. What's there is clean and colorful, though, and it's hard not to feel somewhat endeared by Chibi's look. The Sandersons speak in warbled nothingness with supplied text. It's an archaic tactic to sidestep real voice acting, but it's entirely forgivable considering the nature of the game.
After playing "mature" action game after action game, it can be admittedly hard to sit down and give Chibi-Robo a genuine chance. But if you do, you'll find a refreshing, if sugary sweet, environmental puzzle adventure that may not blow you away, but will provide solid double-digit hours of entertainment for any age.
First Play: B
Last Play: B+
Overall: 86% B