Review by bluej33

"A truly innovative game that's got a ton to offer"

To say that Chibi-Robo is the first game starring a robot would be completely false, but saying that it's the first game to star a robot that's six inches tall and wasn't created to destroy might not be so untrue. Chibi-Robo is certainly one of the most innovative and interesting games that I've ever played, and after playing it like there's no tomorrow, I can safely say that while not necessarily the caliber of, say, Metroid Prime, it still is a must-have GameCube game.

The premise of Chibi-Robo is among the most out-there that I've ever seen: you play the part of the titular Chibi-Robo, a short little robot who's been given to a little girl named Jenny as a birthday present from her father. Your task is simple: make the family happy. Their happiness is expressed in Happy Points, which you'll earn for doing beneficial tasks. At first, you'll simply go around picking up garbage and wiping up stains; eventually, however, there will be some major character interaction bits that allow you the opportunity to pick up a ton of these points.

I suppose that, stripped down as far as it could go, Chibi-Robo is basically a sandbox game, but with the twist that rather than exploring a prep school or huge city (a la Bully and Grand Theft Auto, respectively), you'll be exploring a house. That's it. You're confined to a fairly typical suburban home, complete with your typical areas such as living room, kitchen, a large foyer, bedrooms, a basement, and a backyard. Scattered throughout these areas are tons of quests, items, and characters, and it is the way that these things interact, together with a surprisingly strong story, that make Chibi-Robo such a success.

Interestingly, the plot of a rather childish exploration game actually holds up quite well. There may not seem much potential for a good story here, but just a couple hours into the game you'll stumble upon a giant robot known as Giga-Robo, who's unfortunately out of commission because of his huge energy consumption. It's up to Chibi-Robo to help out the big guy and get him up and running again, and you'll actually find his battery and charger quite quickly. However, it'll still take quite a bit of exploration before he's fully functional again.

Another huge component of Chibi-Robo's plot is the absolutely awesome writing. While there are no voice-overs in the game (just a kind of gibberish like what you get in Animal Crossing), the dialogue is fantastic. It's not believable, per se, but each everything is just so weird that it's funny. Additionally, there's a large cast of characters that are the main source of humor for the title. You've got a killer pink teddy bear, a zombie/princess combo a la Beauty and the Beast, a rag doll in love with a superhero action figure, and so much more. Each character is distinct and hilarious, and all have specific parts to play in the game.

In particular, if you recall the point of the game (that is, make people happy), then you'll begin to understand exactly the role that each character has. For example, there's a squadron of hard-boiled eggs-turned-soldiers who are in a deadly fight with Tao, the family's dog. You can help them out by completing a variety of tasks, but you've got to do stuff in a logical progression. For example, the first time you encounter them they'll attack you -- later, they'll be a bit friendlier, but you've got to motivate them in a variety of ways (for example, showing the captain a picture of the army or presenting Tao's dog tags to them). Each character has certain needs and wants, and fulfilling them is not only a great way to rack up on Happy Points but also as a way of developing characters and opening up new areas to explore.

For example, Sophie (the dog chew toy) is obsessed with Drake Redcrest, an action figure icon. By speaking with him, you can obtain his costume (incidentally, there are a variety of different costumes to get throughout the game, each gained by fulfilling specific requirements. Some of them are unnecessary, but pretty cool, while others are required to complete certain tasks). Put it on, then go talk to Sophie, and she'll run away in tears. Aside from making a rag doll cry, you'll also have made her leave and she's no longer blocking the entrance to the kitchen. And voila, you've got a whole new area to explore with more items to find, trash to pick up, stains to clean, and people to make happy.

There are a ton of items in Chibi-Robo, and can largely be divided into those that you purchase and those that you just find around the house and can later put to use. For example, Chibi-Robo comes equipped with a Helicopter attachment which allows him to hover short distances and float to the ground slowly from high structures. There are tons of similar items to purchase, including a Chibi-Blaster (critically important later in the game, but it'd be a spoiler to say why), an Infared item, and tons more. Additionally, you can find a bunch of items around the house that can be put to good use. For example, use an eye dropper to transport water around, the toothbrush to clean up stains, and a mug to avoid projectiles being fired at you (have any idea what that spoiler is yet?).

All of these items are pretty essential in your exploration of the house, because you're going to need them to unlock specific areas of the game and to maneuver from one area to the next. For example, it's tough to get around at all without being able to hove back and forth between structures, and you've got to blast open a hole in the window to get out into the back yard. Additionally, there are certain events that you've got to trigger to open up new areas, and many of these require the use of one item or another. Additionally, there are a number of little devices that you can create using junk parts (again, I can't say from where, but I believe I'm already -- not deliberately, of course -- some solid clues as to the plot twist that occurs a few hours into the game). These devices are incredibly useful, but can only be used for one task and in one room. For example, you can purchase a Living Room Ladder Talbot (what the devices are called, by the way), and you've got an extendable ladder to use in the living room. You'll acquire different devices as you progress through the game and be able to purchase them for different rooms as well.

And while it's a sandbox game, Chibi-Robo has a surprisingly good pacing system, thanks to a number of implementations in the game. First off, the game is divided into day and night, and the abnormal talking inanimate objects only come out at night, so you'll often have to put off a plan until the next night when you've got enough time to pull it off. Additionally, there's the fact that you've got to plug yourself into a wall outlet, scattered liberally throughout the game, in order to stay alive. You'll be sent battery upgrades constantly as you hit landmark numbers of Happy Points, and if your battery charge ever drops to zero you'll die. Taking damage from random events (falling off a table or being attacked by rats in the drain system, for example) will eat away a ton of your battery power as well). This is neat because it keeps you from being "all powerful", so to speak: you can't do whatever you want because you've got to stay near an outlet. And while this makes for a slow-paced game at first, the issue really solves itself as you progress through the adventure and get bigger batteries. And if you're really having trouble, there are even some spare batteries that you can buy in case of emergency.

There are a few flaws with Chibi-Robo, however, and the real complaint I have with this game is that the graphics specifically, along with the music to a lesser extent just sort of fail to impress. The GameCube is not a graphically powerful system by any stretch of the imagination, seeing as it was the visual loser in the last generation of consoles, but the GameCube can still do better than what Chibi-Robo's dev team gives us. I suppose a lot of it has to do with the fact that the areas are quite open-ended and the developers have made sure that there are no framerate issues even with the large amount of space, but it's still a disappointment. Additionally, the sound is unimpressive and leaves very little impression, and the sound effects played while somebody is speaking are immensely annoying.

That said, it's an easy problem to overlook and those that invest in Chibi-Robo have a lot to look forward to. It doesn't take incredibly long to beat the game, but you're really missing out if you don't take time to explore and really uncover every little secret you possibly can in the game. There are tons of characters to make happy and tons of events to trigger, items to find, and money and items to be had. Overall, Chibi-Robo is a game that really has a ton to offer and is memorable in that it really is a unique title on the Nintendo GameCube. It may be a title from the last generation of gaming, but Wii owners as well as those still stuck with a Cube owe it to themselves to pick up this gem of a game.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/10/08

Game Release: Chibi-Robo! (US, 02/06/06)

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