Every once in a while you buy a game and expect little from it. You buy the game mostly on a whim, not knowing much about it, but it looks interesting and your money is burning a hole in your pocket, so you give it a try. You ease into your well-worn gaming chair, and while the game loads you worry and wonder “Did I waste my money? Should I have rented this one? I hope this is good.” And then, before you know it, something unbelievable happens. Could it be true? The game you just plunked down $55 for, that you knew almost nothing about, turns out to be absolutely amazing!
Chibi-Robo is this game, a classic in the making.
In the game you play Chibi-Robo, a robot who helps the Sanderson family clean house. Never has housecleaning been so much fun. You earn happy points and moola for scrubbing stains and picking up trash. The more happy points you acquire, the more rank you attain, and the more moola you get, the more items you can buy from the online store in your Chibi-House. All of this helps you in your quest to become Super Chibi-Robo: the Number-One ranked Chibi-Robo.
The backdrop story is about the Sanderson family. Dad is seemingly a bum who sits and watches TV and plays with toys all day. The daughter wears a frog costume and only talks like a frog. The family budget is in red ink, and the mom is on the verge of exploding from having to deal with it all. There are also many side stories that involve various toys that come alive during the night, much like the movie Toy Story. All in all the stories are elegant and well told, both the melancholy and the funny ones. And it all feels very believable and authentic, with a “real life” vibe despite the fantasy role of playing a tiny robot.
Most of the gameplay is about exploration and figuring out how to get objects in seemingly impossible-to-reach places. In the beginning you’re pretty much limited to walking the living room floor, but you’ll gradually learn how to get on the couch, the TV, the various shelves and other higher-up places. At the same time you’ll be figuring out how to get into other areas of the house, each with its own set of hard-to-reach places. It’s all very satisfying and engaging.
Along the way you’ll help out near-dead frogs, kill rats and spiders, encounter an army, flip burgers, climb cords, find various suits and tools, plant flowers, dig up bones in the backyard and encounter the hilarious, quirky, (and sometimes sad) cast of characters in your quest to become Number-One Super Chibi-Robo. Besides picking up trash and scrubbing stains, you’ll also earn happy points and moola for helping the family members and toy characters. You get the happy points and moola on the spot, and at the end of the day you’re “beamed” back to your Chibi-House, where your points are added and compared with the official Chibi-Robo rankings.
To accomplish this you get a guide (and sidekick) named Telly-Vision. You also have your Chibi-Vision (binoculars) to scan your surroundings. Most of all, you’ll acquire eight main tools and seven suits during the game that are essential in your quest to become Super Chibi-Robo. These allow you to interact with your environment in ways not previously possible.
Controlling Chibi-Robo is very satisfying, as he responds quickly to every move of the analog stick and is nicely animated. And the controls, as a whole, are quite easy to get into. (And did I mention Chibi makes music as he walks, and that every surface is a different melody?) Most actions only require the green button, which lets you clean, shoot, dig, grab onto ladders or ropes or talk with the various characters in the game. The camera is almost always co-operative, and when Chibi-Robo is behind an object, you’ll see his shadow outline, a nice touch that lets you keep playing until he pops back into view without having to adjust the camera.
One of the beauties of Chibi-Robo is its elegant and seamless design. You’re always “in-game.” An example of this is the big book in the middle of the living room floor that doubles as the game manual and briefs you on the game’s basic concepts. Cleverly, though, it’s disguised as a manual for operating your Chibi-Robo robot and accessories. Other interesting immersive design choices include the limited charge your battery holds, the day and night cycles, the outlets and the lack of traditional levels. The save points and recharging of your battery are nicely integrated with the electrical outlets in the house, so you don’t recharge by selecting a menu option, but by plugging your cord into the outlet. Every time you recharge, you’re asked if you want to save the game. It’s all very convenient.
Battery charge limits how far you can go in the game. Like the energy bar in an RPG, increased rank means your battery can hold more charge, allowing you to go greater distances without being forced to recharge at an outlet. This is an intelligent way of giving you a large, open world without making you feel overwhelmed at first. The marriage between progressing in the game and getting more battery power is near perfect.
Likewise, the day/night cycles at first are short, five-minute intervals, after which you’re forced to return to your Chibi-House to rest. Fairly quickly into the game you can use your moola to buy longer day and night cycles if you want a more leisurely pace. The cycles can be annoying when you’re about to reach an object you just spent 10 minutes trying to reach, but ultimately they provide excitement, variety and a “planning-ahead” challenge. They also represent a sort of turn-based story telling, as most story elements progress only from day to day or day to night, and certain events only happen in the day or night.
The game has no levels in the traditional sense. Instead, you’ll gradually earn the right to get to new areas of the house, be it another room or the top of the kitchen table. None of this feels forced, and there’s no invisible wall saying “you can’t go here yet.” Gradually being able to travel farther, acquiring new tools and objects, and talking to the characters in the story allow you to get to these new areas.
Chibi-Robo is different yet fun without being inaccessible or too weird. With roots that could be traced to previous Nintendo franchises such as Metroid, Pikmin, Mario and Zelda, it’s firmly placed in the “accessible” department. At the same time, there also hasn’t been a game quite like this one. Cleaning floors with a toothbrush and picking up trash in a house as the basic gameplay mechanic? If you want something new and enjoyable, something with engaging, pick-up-and-play gameplay, then this is your game. It’s not an explosion and shooting game, although you carry a blaster and use it at times, and there’s no blood. It’s also a fairly cheery game, although it covers topics such as divorce, unemployment and the environment, and emotions such as sadness, awe and anger. In other words, this game is charming. It’s fun. It’s about life. It’s amazing.
- Gameplay: 9
- Engaging, entertaining, charming and fun.
- Graphics: 9
- They are far from shock-and-awe, but they’re still pleasant to the eye and perfect for this game.
- Sound: 9
- There’s nothing like your first time scrubbing the floor with the toothbrush. It’s literally music to your ears.
- Replay: 8
- Not really the type of game you’ll replay, but it’s nice and long with plenty of side quests.
- Overall: 9
- An amazingly fun game that breaks the mold yet remains accessible and easy to pick up and play.
— Chris Karalus