Discover how to collect Happy Points with a Wii Remote as we go hands-on with Japan's latest GameCube remake.
In Japan, this summer has seen something of a revival for Chibi-Robo, the dutiful little robot created by skip Ltd, developers of the Art Style series. A month prior to the launch of a new instalment in the franchise for Nintendo DS, the original Chibi-Robo was re-released for Wii in June, closing out the Japanese equivalent of the "New Play Control!" series of GameCube remakes.
Originally released in Japan during 2005, this quirky, genre-blending game about the travails of Chibi-Robo and his unusual family has been modified in much the same way as other "Wii de Asobu" titles: with a widescreen presentation in addition to new Wii Remote and Nunchuk controls. The effects of these changes are welcome in some cases, while largely trivial in others, but the embellished sense of scale offered by the 16:9 display adds the most to the experience of playing as a character that stands just four inches tall.
Contrary to some pre-release reports, the control changes are not nearly so radical as to replace direct analog stick control of Chibi-Robo with a point-and-click-style interface. Instead, the Wii Remote's pointer functionality is used to complement the game's original control scheme, and performs well overall. For example, when the Chibi-Blaster weapon is equipped, the ever-present on-screen cursor becomes a crosshair that can be used to quickly target enemies or objects.
The pointer can also be used to guide Chibi-Robo's eyes when looking from a first-person perspective, and using the Blaster from this view is reminiscent of a stationary version of shooting in Metroid Prime 3 (the analog stick being used to zoom in/out rather than for movement), though the action certainly doesn't demand such precision or fluidity. Finally, when you pass the pointer over certain objects as you explore, peculiar musical noises are triggered as the objects rustle in response to the virtual contact. These reactions indicate that the object can be picked up, and simultaneously add to the game's outstanding, uniquely vivid sound design.
Aside from pointer utilisation, the other notable aspect of Chibi-Robo's Wii controls is the use of gestures for certain actions. These include lightly wiggling the Wii Remote to scrub stains off floors, flicking to throw rubbish in the bin, and twisting to unlock doors. While these are little more than a substitute for button presses, and therefore seem quite token, they are thankfully all intuitive motions for each job. More importantly, they have been implemented with sufficient restraint to avoid becoming irksome; the context-sensitive nature of these actions means that no grand, early Wii commercial-like flailing is required to get anything to work here.
Other aspects of Chibi-Robo's controls have been left mostly unaffected by the Wii Remote-Nunchuk configuration, with the exception of camera control now being delegated to the D-pad and pointer in lieu of a second analog stick. This setup proves adequate most of the time, with the ability to immediately centre the view behind Chibi-Robo (previously performed by pressing the GameCube's L trigger) by tapping down on the D-pad coming in handy when carefully navigating more complex sections of the environment.
Perhaps more significant than any of the above control changes is the inclusion of widescreen support, and this is not merely because many gamers (including myself) have upgraded to a 16:9 TV in the years since the end of the GameCube era. The concept of seeing a typical environment from a very different perspective is central to the Chibi-Robo experience, and the panoramic views given by the wide aspect ratio work to heighten the sense of being a tiny character faced with traversing massive surroundings. Displaying the game's graphics on a big screen may further expose its sometimes simple environment geometry and rough texture work—there certainly does not appear to have been any Metroid Prime Trilogy-style refinements made in this area—but the enhanced sense of scale comfortably trumps these concerns.
Given the amount of enjoyment I've had playing Chibi-Robo on Wii (despite having to muddle through reams of Japanese text using online translations), it is undoubtedly a shame that there has yet to be any indication of the New Play Control! version coming to Western markets. Should Nintendo of America and/or Europe find a slot in their Wii release schedules for skip's adorable creation, it would represent a welcome opportunity for more gamers to become fans of what will hopefully be a continuing series of Chibi-Robo adventures on Nintendo platforms.