Once introduced to the world as the Sanderson family’s miniature cleaner, Chibi-Robo has taken on many roles as Nintendo sought to strike success with their 10-centimetre tall, battery-powered robot. From housework to gardening, back to housework and then, most recently, into collecting everyday objects to display in a museum, it hasn’t been a particularly memorable career. Sadly, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash succumbs to a much similar fate, in delivering a forgettable adventure that fails to ever spark that incomparable Nintendo charm.
It is the extra-terrestrial Gyorians that are causing mischief this time around. When Chibi-Robo learns that Earth’s natural resources have suddenly started disappearing, suspicion is raised when tiny UFOs are sighted across the planet. With an international crisis at hand, the robotic hero returns from orbit to repel Earth’s greedy invaders.
Given Nintendo’s unrivalled proficiency in the genre, the decision to swerve Chibi-Robo into the frolic of platform adventure is a muddled one. However, the reasoning is at least clear. Given that the minuscule character tirelessly lets his Chibi-Plug trail around behind him, why not put it to use? The result is Whip Lash and Zip Lash gameplay mechanics, which see Chibi-Robo generally throwing the plug in a chosen direction, whirling it mid-air to hover temporarily, or recklessly swinging it overhead like a lasso for more powerful attacks.
Used to defend yourself from enemies, players will also rely on the Chibi-Plug to make their way through each stage. Orange panels are scattered around, designating points at which Chibi-Robo can attach his plug. These can then either be pulled toward you, used to swing across gaps, or to help you climb, which works well toward implementing the mechanic across the breadth of the game. The Zip Lash even more so, as it is regularly used in puzzle instances where the player is required to carefully aim their throw so that the Chibi-Plug rebounds off walls to reach a distant item or switch.
Chibi-Robo will also need to tug at storage boxes to discover whatever awaits inside, while the gyroscopic innards of the Nintendo 3DS are put to use whenever you need to activate switches that you will intermittently come across. Plugging into certain sockets can see Chibi-Robo overheat, bursting into flames so that you can melt barriers in your way. Whereas icy powers will let you freeze water so that you can safely cross without becoming frazzled.
With red, blue and yellow boost-balls steadily extending the reach of your Whip Lash and Zip Lash attacks, longevity comes in that stages frequently tease out-of-reach hidden areas that you will need to come back to. Each hides Chibi-tots, Lost Aliens, treasure chests, and big coins that need to be collected for full completion, the stage’s clear screen breaking down whatever you may have missed.
There are also real-world snacks to discover, with players given their detailed history whenever collected. These can then be handed to excitable toy plane Toby, who requests that you find specific snacks for him.
It can at least be said that the gameplay mechanics have been robustly implemented, but Japanese developer Skip’s efforts fall remarkably flat in nearly every other area. Stage design is glaringly unremarkable, attempts to disrupt the game’s flow with balloon rides, skateboarding, wakeboarding and exploring murky underwater depths in a submarine failing to generate any more enthusiasm. It doesn’t take long before Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash‘s adventure begins to feel incredibly repetitive, and that’s a stern criticism that I haven’t had to make in a fair while.
There are also completely unnecessary design choices, like the Destination Wheel. When you complete a stage, striking either a bronze, silver or gold UFO will reward you with one or more chances to give it a spin. This is how the next stage that you play will be determined, seemingly trying to move away from linearity but actually resulted in repeating the same stages over and over. You can use accumulated Moolah to change the number panels on the wheel, but I’m surprised that the system was approved for inclusion. Given that once you complete a world, players can freely choose whichever stage they want to play – it makes the entire experiment feel redundant.
The delightful Chibi-Robo amiibo has been given more worth attention, immediately allowing players to transform into Super Chibi-Robo – boosting your movement in speed and increasing your watts. Whereas at the end of each stage, you can record your score to level up your amiibo – rewarding you by letting you transform more times per day. There’s some annoyance in that the Chibi-Capsule vending machine is also locked behind the amiibo purchase, which lets you collect 200 in-game figures. These can then be arranged in dioramas, which can be snapped and shared on Miiverse.
The future of Nintendo’s miniature robot now lies in uncertainty, with Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash amounting to another misjudged decision. While the groundwork lays some appreciated ideas, the end result is an adventure that never successfully lures any interest beyond our adoration for the tiny proportions of the game’s hero.