A little under a year ago I went and reviewed Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol, a rather delightful game if I recall, but I recall feeling as if it was missing something that the original title had that made it special. Well, despite how I sold the game long, long ago back when I did that with games, I have emulators and decided to give the Dolphin a whirl, which resulted in three games that stuttered like mad, and one that didn’t… for the most part. That game was Chibi-Robo! and, wouldn’t you believe it, I liked it a whole bunch.
Developers: Skip Ltd. and Nintendo
Set in an alternate reality where robotics were popularized during the 1960s and 70s, Chibi-Robo is a house cleaning robot the side of a toothpaste tube who has been something of a crazy for this Japanese view of American life. Though the game only focuses on one single little bot, and it is the one purchased by the dysfunctional Sandersons, who live in a house where the toys possess sentience and have a girl who believes she was cursed by a frog. However, those two examples are just the tip of the list that I could make about things I like about Chibi-Robo!, which are pretty much all based upon the characters, scenarios, and amazing mix of oddness and adorableness it manages to pull of with relative ease.
For example, the Sandersons bring up the topic of divorce near the halfway point of the game. A state that has been implied seeing as how the overweight poorly dressed father of the house was sleeping on the couch, but is still done with both a childlike optimism to the events and does have a sensible payoff as part of one of the most overly climatic, but intense climaxes to ever involve both time travel and aliens. Yet, that is just the main plot, where there is a cavalcade of side characters who all have their own little side quests for you to embark on. From having a mummy toy have babies with a princess you need to rescue, to helping an old sea dog fly through the seas of the sky once more with a crew of egg soldiers.
Oh, but I could go on gushing about the funky flower man or things as basic as that talking eggplant for hours. Yet if I were to do that, I would likely bring up how the Banjo-Kazooie-ism filled dialog can take far longer than it should to scroll. A seemingly mild complaint that is likely a contributor for a good half hour of gameplay due to the surprising amount of cutscenes that exist in what I would be tempted to call a 3D Platformer. I say tempted, as the game is both imposing of a time restriction of fifteen minutes, though the game oddly has you pay a miniscule amount of “Moolah” to increase it from the default five. Along with how the game is very much not fast paced, as Chibi-Robo is a constantly draining power cell that can only walk as fast as his little legs may take him, and regularly needs to recharge his batteries at the nearest power outlet.
This unfortunately results in about a hundred plus scenes where Chibi-Robo must go through a lengthy save sequence. As Chibi-Robo makes his way through the Sanderson’s house, fulfilling duties for the many colorful characters, cleaning after the respawning messes the less tidy of the Sandersons leave, and trying to do the ever challenging task of climbing on top of things. A task that more closely borders on the repetitious side of things more than anything as I effectively lost track of how many times I went up to the kitchen sink or glided across a bedroom.
You are thankfully given the ever handy Utilibots to provide Chibi-Robo with bridges over gaps, ladders powered by his own batteries, or teleporters to help the little guy climb up or descend the dastardly stairs. However, they are very contextual, and often something of a hassle to either push due to the layout of the floor, and power as Chibi-Robo is highly likely to near death unless you hold off on using the tools when they are first introduced. Although, asking why anybody would is questionable due to how the tools are among the best way to get Moolah, as they allow Chibi-Robo to access alternate dimensions where he sacrifices his own life energy in order to obtain monetary gain.
If the description for that last bit wasn’t a clue, what really does shine about Chibi-Robo! is how it is in possession of a personality as charming and delightfully childish as could be, while having very potent oddness to nearly every single aspect of it. It is kept under wraps for the most part, but does it so effortlessly that I’m actually surprised it did not get as much recognition for doing so much. Yet this was likely due to a small team behind the game, and their budget becomes apparent when taking into consideration just how many assets are actually used.
The Sanderson’s house is a very gaudy 60s inspired abode that is often questionably designed in terms of practicality as there is no bathroom or even a trash bin in the kitchen. Instead, they are ten very distinct almost color coded areas that are all given about as much detail as could be done in order to keep things consistent with the very low polygon character models. A term I’d use to describe everyone excluding the robots, oddly enough. With Chibi-Robo being especially slick and smooth around his edges and possessing a certain degree of elegance as he executes even the simplest of actions, such as walking.
It is a decision that would come across as questionable with its introduction as every movement made by Chibi-Robo results in some sort of note being played. From providing feedback to the bot’s pitter patter on several different surfaces, to the scrubbing of a toothbrush onto a muddy footprint. Yet, due to the control you have and the pleasantness to nearly every note I only found it to add to an already appropriate soundtrack and gibberish speech in terms of building a world through what was heard.
After playing through it and even after doing my best to analyze the game, I can’t come up with anything short of adoration towards Chibi-Robo! Such is the problem when playing through a game and realizing how much it inadvertently shaped one’s mind and personal tasted, but that is where Chibi-Robo! stands for me. It is endearing on all fronts and while I would not hesitate to call it as clunky as its protagonist’s four foot tall predecessor, It is my go-to example for how a charming personality can provide a game a high place in my mind.