Review by clarkisdark
"Support the little guy!"
Let's face it, the Gamecube is good as dead. Twilight Princess might as well be a Wii exclusive, and Over the Hedge isn't going to replace its absence here and now. So it would seem that Chibi-Robo is a pick-up by default. Then again, it's difficult to take anything seriously that has "chibi" in it. But don't let the cutesy name fool you. Inside is an experience you'll not find anywhere else.
For all intents and purposes, Chibi-Robo's bubbly presentation can be hard to swallow. This far into the Gamecube's life, it's almost embarrassing to play a game that looks this dated. These are some of the worst character models and animation I've seen in a current generation title. In fact, the game often fades to black to avoid showing the animation of a character climbing into a boat or sitting down at a table. Is this lazy programming? Possibly. Yet what Chibi-Robo lacks in finesse is made up in charm. Chibi-Robo as a character is a very appealing design, and the worlds he inhabits are highly colorful and playful. Of course, by "worlds," I mean a living room, a kitchen, a foyer, etc. The scope of this game is fantastic. You really feel like a small, little robot inside an enormous house. Potted plants never looked so foreboding.
Chibi-Robo, the character, is made more amusing by the sounds he emits. Every step Chibi-Robo takes plays a musical note--which also changes depending on what surface he is standing on--so running around the house results in a lot of twinkly shenanigans. It sounds like it would be really annoying, but it isn't. This game packs in so much music and noise, and it's constantly changing depending on the context, there's no time for one particular medley to tick you off. However-- there is no voice acting. After playing Chibi-Robo, I insist Nintendo needs to invest in some voice talent, because this is ridiculous. Characters resort to babble talk whenever they "speak," but it is much less amusing and much more annoying than any other game out there. This is only worsened by the fact that Chibi-Robo has a lot of dialogue. And it can't be skipped. And it isn't the least bit interesting.
It is such a shame Chibi-Robo is bogged down by long cut-scenes, because the meat of the game is a delight. As you have probably already guessed, you play as a little robot living with a dysfunctional family (the father blows all the family savings on toys, his wife locks herself in her room, and their daughter thinks she's a frog). As the robot, your job is to make the family happy. This can be accomplished by listening to their problems, cleaning up their trash, giving them presents, or turning on the television (because they're too lazy to do it themselves). By doing these things, you earn Happy Points that go towards upgrading you and your battery life. Well, you are a robot, so you can't go forever without recharging. Unfortunately, recharging is a tedious chore. In the beginning, Chibi-Robo's battery is quite weak, so you can't do very much without having to run to a wall socket and plug in every two minutes. It's incredibly annoying at first but becomes less of a problem as you earn more Happy Points.
Chibi-Robo is kind of like The Sims in that you're really only doing menial tasks on a daily basis in order to get a promotion of some sort. And while that sort of micromanagement can be terribly addicting, Chibi-Robo goes beyond that. On top of cleaning house, there is a lot of adventuring to be done. Mechanical "spydorz" periodically attack. A band of eggs in the foyer are prepping to wage war against the family dog. Complex love triangles have formed between several of the toys. And, naturally, it's all of your business to get involved. Nobody says you have to get involved, but these extra elements add so much to the gameplay. Scrubbing muddy footprints has its share of enjoyment, but there's nothing quite like looking at a humongous refrigerator and thinking, "Now how the heck am I supposed to get to the top of that to retrieve the bandages?" And then doing it.
To accomplish such great feats, however, isn't as simple as the standard platformer has led you to believe. Let me make this disclaimer: Chibi-Robo is not a platformer. In fact, the little robot can't even jump. Keeping his feet on the ground makes you work harder to get to certain places (i.e. by using a ladder), but the inability to jump is sorely missed. Even to cross a small gap requires turning on Chibi-Robo's propellers to float small distances. The locations in this game are really great, and it's disappointing to find out you can't just go wild.
It's probably a good thing Chibi-Robo is so mild, though. That battery of his drains so quickly. And if that wasn't already an annoying time constraint, the game is split up into day and night. This would be fine if the house actually transitioned from day to night with the family slowly going to bed and getting up, etc. etc. However--and again I think this goes back to lazy programming--when night comes, you are forced to go back to your little robot house. You can still explore at night, but you have to restart from your house. So if you were in the middle of something when the 15-minute day timer goes off, tough luck. Now you'll have to hike all the way back. There really is no point to build a game like this, and it's extremely irritating.
Do designers do these stupid things to try and make the game last longer? There really isn't any need, because Chibi-Robo is a very long game regardless. It takes a good 15-20 hours before the family's problems are finally solved. But a lot of that depends on what you set as your goals. It is very easy to get lost in all of the side-quests--those which involve all the toys and animals--and forget Jenny's parents are still fighting. This makes it difficult to pinpoint that moment when Chibi-Robo is no longer fun. New tools, new costumes, new characters, and new rooms are constantly--and steadily--becoming available. In all honesty, this is one of those rare games that retains a huge amount of "magic" all the way to the end (even though, technically, there is no end).
Chibi-Robo is a very unique game, and for that I feel confident recommending it to just about anyone. Yeah, it's a bit cute and high on charm, but experiences like this don't come often. It's got the addictiveness of The Sims, the adventuring of Zelda, the zaniness of Toy Story and Katamari Damacy, and a Harvest Moon-like satisfaction without the tedium of planting cabbage! The whole idea of being this little robot living with a human family on its own makes a great game. It's just too bad Chibi-Robo's true potential is never reached. Completely silly design decisions like the forced day/night restart and heaps of pointless dialogue drag down what could have been one of the best Gamecube games ever. I'm not kidding.
+ Very charming and quirky
+ Great scope
+ Addictive micromanagement
+ With adventure elements
-- Tedious time constraints
-- So much dialogue...
-- Controls leave a lot to be desired
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/03/06
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