Don't do the robot.
Cleanliness is not
next to godliness, it's in the basement ironing his robes. If you don't believe me, play Chibi-Robo
, a game in which you play a painfully helpful robot who scours a large house for lost junk. Although it gives you plenty to do within the confines of a domain that is nothing if not fun to explore, it's a long fall from a divine experience.
It never, though, reaches infernal depths, instead landing solidly on the purgatorial plateau of mediocrity. The story, for example, is told with great enthusiasm but little talent. It begins on a little girl's birthday, and you're the present. Once you pop out of the box, the family disperses to their favorite parts of the house and you're left to your own devices - namely, cleaning theirs.
Instead of really interacting with your owners, you spend most of your time listening to your manager, Telly Vision, a flying, talking TV. He instructs you on how to best go about doing your job and encourages you on your quest to become the most helpful little robot in the world.
This isn't an abstract quest, either. Every time you do something nice, the beneficiary gives you "Happy Points," which Telly somehow enters into a big computer stored in your little robot house. The computer checks your total Happy Points against those of the other Chibi-Robos in the world and gives you a ranking. When you finally become the top-ranked Chibi, you're transformed by the company that made you into a Super Chibi-Robo. It's just like Animal Crossing, but instead of saving for a bigger house, you save for better ways to clean one.
Whether you're a super cleaner or just a regular one, stories begin to develop as you wander the house meeting its toy denizens. That's right - at night, the house literally turns into Pixar's Toy Story, complete with a Buzz Lightyear knockoff named Drake Redcrest and a wisecracking T-Rex. It's clear where the game's inspiration came from, but it didn't borrow much of the film's wit. The dialogue is corny and full of conversational dead-ends, as most of the stories revolve around something a toy has lost, yet is too lazy to find.
So off you go, exploring room after room in search of a pirate's ship or the charger for a defunct robot's battery. Each room is full of mundane things – shelves, TVs, and ovens spring instantly to mind – but they're all given mountainous proportions by your relatively tiny size. It's a great, big, vertical world, and can be a lot of fun to explore.
Or, I should say, would be a lot of fun to explore if it weren't for the double-restriction placed on your wanderings by Chibi's battery and the day/night cycle. Everything you do, from climbing to walking to standing still, drains energy from your battery. When you begin to run low, you have to recharge at an outlet or risk turning off, at which point Telly will drag you back to your house and revive you. For every shelf or stovetop explored, you have to make a trip back to an outlet to replenish your juice.
This takes precious time, and thanks to the irritating day/night cycle, seconds are always in short supply. Both days and nights last only a few minutes, and when one ends you're automatically teleported back to your house. Let's say, then, that you've just explored half of a shelf and need to replenish your battery. By the time you schlep all the way back to an outlet and charge again, your day or night is almost over. You know you'll never make it back to where you were, but you can't simply teleport back home, either.
You should be able to any time you want. In fact, that's how the day/night cycle should work all the time. Instead of inflicting such a crazy restriction on your expeditions, the day/night cycle should have been placed entirely in your hands, enabling you to teleport home and cash in your happiness and moolah any time you felt like it.
Moolah, by the way, is the game's term for money. Collect enough and you can buy stuff like new tools and bigger batteries from the comfort of your little robot house. Before you stash enough cash to buy neat add-ons, your basic abilities include walking around, climbing objects, hovering and pushing blocks. From there, you'll find and buy tools and devices that allow you to scavenge harder to reach places. For example, you'll find a toothbrush early on that can be used to clean stains, resulting in Happy Points, and when you save enough cash you can buy the Chibi blaster, which is capable of blasting small obstacles and reducing robot spyders to scrap metal. This scrap can then be recycled into utilibots, which come in three flavors: ladders, bridges and teleporters. These can be pushed around and deployed, giving Chibi more means to reach far-off cabinets and counter-tops.
But there's barely any action in Chibi-Robo. Instead, the game is mostly a matter of using your tools to overcome furniture. This slow, easy pace, coupled with the battery issues and daily/nightly resets can bring the game's progress, and your interest in it, to a standstill.
Which is a shame, because poking around a quirky house as a wee robot certainly has its charms. Chibi-Robo is a cute game. The mechanical man himself animates in all sorts of cool ways, like when he picks up his cord of a tail and jumps to jack himself into a wall, or when he teeters on a precipice with arms flailing. Everything is unified by a distinct art style, and while it isn't always appealing, it's consistent.
Every one of Chibi's cute actions is underscored by equally sweet, quirky music. When he runs, a nice melody loops, and the guitar track that plays when he's mopping is so catchy and pleasing you'll mop even after the stains are gone just to hear it. There's no voice-over, though, as the characters speak in gibberish reminiscent of Animal Crossing and The Sims. It fits the game's quirky aesthetic, but it doesn't help dispel the impression that Chibi-Robo is the product of a weak developmental effort.
That's a real shame, because Chibi-Robo is a unique gadget full of down-home adventure. The huge obstacles you'll scale in the game, however, are small compared to those you'll deal with while playing. It's worth a look, but you won't want to make this bucket of bolts a permanent fixture in your house.