Nintendo has perhaps some of the most recognisable mascots in the world, but Chibi-Robo doesn’t exactly have the pedigree of Mario and Zelda. First appearing on the GameCube, the franchise’s releases have been sporadic in the West. The latest version has reached our shores though, taking the leap back from 3D to 2D in the process, but, while Chibi Robo! Zip Lash has a couple of neat ideas, it isn’t exactly the best reinvention of a series.
As aliens descend on the planet beneath Chibi-Robo’s satellite home, it is up to him to repel the invaders from stealing the Earth’s resources, while at the same time helping the toys below. It’s a simple setup that doesn’t really go anywhere, serving more as an excuse for the game’s action than an actual story.
Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash certainly looks the part but is far from pushing the boundaries of the system. Areas are varied, featuring regional locales from Oceania to North America and beyond. Chibi-Robo himself is excellently animated and full of life, but the rest of the game looks somewhat plain. Bosses do have a sense of scale though, what with Chibi-Robo being 10cm tall, and as such certainly look the part.
As for Chibi-Robo’s attacks, his options are limited to using his cord like a whip, with standard attacks having the ability to hover while Zip Lash attacks are charged up for a powerful ranged attack. A lot of the level is spent getting blue orbs to extend Chibi-Robo’s range to up to 300m; all the while navigating obstacles, attacking enemies, and uncovering secrets.
Even though the game is completely new in terms of the gameplay, some Chibi-Robo quirkiness remains. Health is constantly draining, with damage taking a chunk of your remaining power. You are able to recover by plugging into power outlets, while some occasionally also grant elemental abilities for a short period. Money accumulated can also buy a spare battery and jetpack in case things go wrong, but there’s nothing too outlandish available.
In order to keep the game from going stale quickly, there are an assortment of unique levels throughout, such as skateboarding and waveboarding. These are more challenging than the main game as finer responses are required and are generally a breath of fresh air. However the submarine level is so much slower than the normal levels, by the time a boss battle involving the submarine turned up, I was dreading it as I correctly predicted it would be long and drawn out.
In fact, that one boss battle sums up my main grievance with Chibo-Robo! Zip Lash – how much it likes to waste your time. Generally stages have a point where the action stops and plays out by itself. I’d love to have seen a part of the level that came from Chibi-Robo using his power cord to part the sea, but instead it’s a long and overdrawn cutscene.
This would be okay if it allowed you to skip these scenes from the get-go, but alas you have to sit through them all, even ones that are remarkably like scenes in previous levels. As such, there were times I felt I was watching Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash more than actually playing it, time and time again showcasing just how much potential there was for elaborate level design, yet somehow never fulfilling the expectation.
Another way it wastes your time is with its level selection screen. After completing each level, you spin a roulette wheel to determine how many spaces you move on the map. You can manipulate this by purchasing slots to replace spaces on the wheel, but it is only after you beat the boss of the world that you get to freely choose your destination. Bosses have their own wheel too, with weakened versions available in slots, but it nevertheless slows the pace even further.
With six worlds, each culminating in a boss battle, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash isn’t very long when all the padding is removed from the equation. There are a lot of collectables such as Chibi Tots, Star Coins, and even real-world snacks. The product placement is warned about from the outset, but contains predominantly Japanese snacks. By taking the snacks to the toys hidden in portals in each world, you get a small description of said snack. There are also aliens that need saving, should you wish to attempt to engage with the MiiVerse community.
Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash is one of those rare examples where the previous games were more interesting in concept. There’s possibly something there for someone younger to sink their teeth into and it is adorable throughout, but this is a standard platformer with a great deal of padding and not all that much innovation. Overall, a competent platformer that plays it safe, but one that is also painfully drawn out.
Disclaimer: It’s worth pointing out that Amiibo functionality is incredibly limited without the Chibi-Robo Amiibo specifically. We did not have a Chibi-Robo Amiibo for review to unlock the Super Chibi-Robo mode, and also a vending machine that allows you to uncover more collectables and more levels. Therefore I highly recommend getting the bundle version that will come with the Amiibo should you wish to play it.