Chibi-Robo whips it; whips it good.
From what I understand, the Chibi-Robo games have essentially been about a tiny robot slave, tasked with picking up his owners’ trash and plugging himself in at night to charge back up. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, here—I’ve never played a proper Chibi-Robo game. This game eschews that tradition, and finds Chibi-Robo on a platforming adventure, picking up trash (sigh) around the world while also finding collectibles. He does this with the aid of his power cord, which doubles as a handy grappling hook. Do you have fond memories of Bionic Commando? This game is surprisingly similar, but with some touches of the Yoshi’s Island games and a far lower difficulty level. It’s a cute little game.
Chibi-Robo wander through several worlds which have six levels apiece, attempting to both survive and collect a bunch of things. The main goal is to find three Star Coins, three Chibi-Tots (little robots), and one or two Snacks—which are real-world candies in the mold of Pikmin 2. It’s strange to see Chibi-Robo pick up, say, Airheads or Pocky, but it’s not distracting. The candy eventually just settles in as another collectible. Chibi-Robo finds these objects through extensive use of his Zip-Lash attack, which stretches his cord an increasing distance based on how many extender bubbles you’ve picked up. The cord can ricochet off walls and pick up anything it touches. It’s a fun mechanic to use, although aiming it takes some practice, as you’ll want to switch between the Circle Pad and the D-pad for precision shots.
Checkpoints are everywhere, so dying never results in much lost progress. Most of your deaths will be from endless pits, falling in water, or sinking in quicksand. Enemy robots (which look like cute toys) are present but present little challenge. You can stun most of them by hopping on their heads, and one or two swipes with your cord will destroy them.
Stages are generally well-designed and most feature a unique “hook,” like being able to melt certain blocks, skate across water, or navigate a bomb-filled maze. Stages tend to be kind of lengthy, which can be a turnoff if you’re trying to collect everything (more on this later). Finishing a stage nets you a high score, medals for collecting things, and bonus medals for beating the stage without using items, dying, or taking damage. Completionists will have quite a road ahead.
There are a few instances where Chibi-Robo gets on a vehicle; these stages are almost universally horrible. You get a skateboard (forced scrolling, no checkpoints); balloon (hard to control; no checkpoints); jet-ski (actually kind of fun, but jump timing is iffy); and a submarine (interminably slow, not fun at all). The third world’s boss is fought with the submarine—it is the slowest boss fight in all of video game-dom. Whatever your feelings on the vehicles, there’s no denying that the game’s stage select system is an absolute misfire. At the end of each stage, you are given the opportunity to maneuver your Zip-Lash to hit one of three UFOs. Depending on the one you hit, you’re able to spin a goddamn dial to determine how many stages forward you move. Since the map is presented as a circle, you will very likely repeat one or more stages whether you want to or not. Perhaps knowing, deep down, that nobody would like this, the game does allow you to buy up numbers to place on the dial, thus gaming the system and landing on a number you actually want. But for real, this is comically bad and there’s no reason for it.
It may not look like it, but this game is absolutely packed with content. Many stages have random baby aliens sitting around. If you can bring the baby alien to a drop-off point and fling him at the UFO that appears, you usually get…coins. But very rarely you get a new costume or a PIECE of a new costume. You can work together with other players on Miiverse to complete the costume “code,” which is kind of cool. What’s not great is that the mere presence of the baby alien is randomized, as is where he appears. He might appear in an area that’s literally impossible to get to the drop-off point from.
Let’s talk about the Amiibo support, because it’s actually pretty impressive. The Chibi-Robo Amiibo can be activated in the “home base” area to activate a randomized figurine dispenser. Using it costs 50 in-game coins (which are scattered throughout every stage). This may seem like a lot until you realize that tapping any other Amiibo figure in the home base gets you either 50 or 100 coins per Amiibo. You can only get free money twenty times a day, but that’s more than enough. The figurines are cute—they remind me of the trophies in Kirby and the Rainbow Curse—and are sorted by rarity. Tapping your Chibi-Robo Amiibo to each stage’s results screen allows your Amiibo’s “experience level” to increase, thus increasing your chances of netting ever-rarer figurines. It’s a cute feature, totally not necessary to the rest of the game, but appreciated. Additionally, tapping the Chibi-Robo Amiibo to the screen during gameplay activates Super Chibi-Robo, who runs faster and has a longer health bar right off the bat.
The only other thing I don’t love is that the stages tend to be long, as I said, so missing a collectible—some of which you only have one chance to grab—kind of sucks. This is the same problem that plagues the Yoshi’s Island games. Thankfully, like the newer Yoshi games, which collectibles you found is saved, so if you found the first two Star Coins the first time through, you only have to worry about grabbing the third on your second try. Chibi-Robo: Zip-Lash is a fun game. It’s got some frustrating moments (stage select, vehicles) but the highs outweigh the lows, and I like the Amiibo functionality. Give it a shot, kids.