"The pocket illegal immigrant"

Games that do things a bit different are something of a rare pleasure for me. Whether it be stepping into the interactive acid trip of Killer 7, using live ammo as a western weirdo in Oddworld Stranger's Wrath, raising a farm and animals while looking for love in Harvest Moon, or simply rolling up the world in Katamari Damacy, games that bring a detour to the tired path of safety are a welcome disturbance. Chibi-Robo's uniqueness and charm put a smile on my face few games before have, bringing a fun and bizarre adventure that had me eagerly awaiting my next smile.

As an expensive birthday gift from a father to his daughter, you begin your tour of dysfunction in the Sanderson household rather simply as a four inch, beady-eyed metallic robot no bigger than, say, a salt shaker. Appropriately named Chibi Robo, and aided only by a companion guide--a flying monitor named Telly Vision (yep)--you have what appears to be limited means to assist them. Chibi's battery power, for instance, is rather minimal at first forcing a recharge at various power outlets rather frequently by sticking the plug coming out of Chibi's...backside in a wall socket. Also, the day and night cycle given goes by rather quickly as well, making your first exploring attempts rather brisk. As time progresses, however, you'll gain more than enough might and time to be a happy little chore-bot.

By doing chores like picking up garbage, mopping, washing windows and walls with things found around the house (like a toothbrush for mopping away stains, a spoon to shovel, and a toy syringe from a toy doctors kit used for washing away dirt or sucking up liquid), you can earn currency called moolah. Moolah can be used to buy much needed items like an extension to add more time to the day and night cycle, or an extra battery to let Chibi "live" a little longer if you didn't recharge in time. You can also earn what are called "happy points." These points can level Chibi up, so to speak. Not only do they raise Chibi's ranking, but doing so also allows for Chibi's battery power to be lengthened allowing you to go longer without the required recharging you must do to not let Chibi faint. By using and gaining extensions, they allow for longer exploration of the Sanderson home.

And what a home it is. In what looks to be a simple everyday home out of what looks like to be the 70s, lurks a world of hidden happenings. In this green/brown/orange patch of suburbia (the game's colorful), lies a world that comes to life when the Sandersons are asleep or away, as the inhabitants of mostly toys come out to play. With incoherent voices, that are echoed by all characters, these mostly stuffed and plastic multicolored wonders offer insight into the new world Chibi is thrown into.

It seems the Sandersons are not a happy family. The dad is an overgrown, toy loving boy-nerd who spends a lot of money on toys and robos, and the mom is hopelessly trying to deal with him while balancing a broken budget that could leave the family in the poor house. Their dog, Tao, is neglected, and their daughter, Jenny, worries about her parents and becomes distant to them. She also wears a frog head-thingy and talks like one (she loves the frogs). The Sanderson's plight is rather bleak, but never enters the realm of Lifetime-on-Oxygen melodrama, even when the mom locks herself in the bedroom and Jenny reflects her thoughts in one of her crayon drawings.

The toys and other inhabitants also offer their own sorrows. You'll meet up with many interesting and bizarre characters who need to have their tales resolved. A funky flower, bickering frogs, a super hero with his own pyro, a pirate with an identity crisis, military eggs (yup), and a lot more colorful characters who all need help show up for Chibi to aid. Doing so nets more moolah and happy points, and can be a path to acquire some cool costumes that help in various ways. Helping those in need can also offer some really funny moments like when you train with those military eggs for an assault on the great beast of the house (Tao). The eggs also offer fun, but insignificant, little minigames like racing in a rocket, skydiving, and playing a game of chicken in a toy car.

You can decide whom around the house you want to help and when, which provides some non-linear relief to the main story of the game that involves awakening a fellow robo. This main story, while rather simple, offers many great moments and offers a lot of insight for many characters. The toys, for instance, are alive for a reason and when explained, offers a cute Sci-Fi twist that keeps the story very lighthearted and fun.

Helping a bunch of toys and doing chores for a dysfunctional family may sound ridiculous, but it is the main charm to the game. This game gave me OCD, with stopping and cleaning every stain, picking up every piece of trash and relieving the house of it in order to get more points and upgrade, and in just offering help to the characters who need it and witnessing the aftereffects. With some upbeat tunes, and musical acknowledgement for every move Chibi makes (truly catchy and not annoying), scurrying around the entire house looking for items to help, in itself, is also fun. Chibi has an Inspector Gadget-like head which shoves everything you find in it and pops stuff out like a container, allowing you to carry the many items you find, so collecting stuff is simple and easy, and can meander into a bit of adventuring and battling by doing so.

While Chibi can't manually jump, you will still be traversing a built to scale house (well, without a bathroom) for a four inch 'bot that will involve climbing tables, dressers, chairs, and even venturing into the drain of a sink searching for items and collectibles. Chibi can float for a limited time, and he can have the aid of special gadgets, such as a teleporter and ladder, also created by Chibi's manufacturer, CitrusSoft, to help move around the house better. These special gadgets allow the transferring of collected bolts left behind by your nemesis throughout the game, the Spydorz, to be put to use. These metallic spider creatures pop up in various places and can be blasted in first person or third by Chibi's upgradeable blaster. And, yes, even the Spydorz have a backstory linking to the main game, ending in a great and heroic final showdown. They are, sadly, the enemies you fight the most, as the main game is about mostly exploration. Some organic pests, aside from some rats in a 2-D viewpoint drainpipe, would have been welcome to fight, though.

While some more rooms would have been welcomed as well (like a bathroom, or a garage), and more enemies to battle would have "actioned" things up a bit, Chibi-Robo still ends up being a well packed game. At a nice length, and at a pace you set, and allowing you to continue after the game is completed, the game offers some nice relief from most of the norm that's out on the market right now. Truly not for everyone, the game is for those who take a chance on small quirky titles. Doing so will reward with a charming, fun, lighthearted time. Enjoy. ^.^

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 08/21/06, Updated 10/30/06

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