↵Tiny robots and their tiny… cables.
Up in space, Chibi-Robo was busy doing his job cleaning off a space station. Then, some aliens showed up, bent on taking all of his candy… or any stranger’s candy… I guess. And Nintendo’s tiny friend, in all his shiny glory, decided to get that candy back. When it comes to plot, this vague interpretation of speechless aliens and speechless protagonist (and a chirping little yellow friend) is all that’s necessary to set up the action. And that action is how I like my games: constantly to the side.
Zip Lash! is the side-scroller version of Chibi-Robo, mixing Castlevania and Indiana Jones to whip, swing, and fight enemies to find those precious stolen snacks. And these aren't just any old snacks; these are the top-shelf stuff. And by "top-shelf," I mean "blatant advertising of real American and Japanese snack foods". Not gonna lie, I find it a bit disingenuous to be so blatantly stuffing as much digital advertising of junk food into a video game as Nintendo is doing here. It's one thing for the occasional sponsor like Duracell in Pikmin, but this might as well be a playable advertisement, and those rarely ever work. Lucky for all of us, World Gone Sour, this ain’t.
Nintendo's taken their tiny character to some fun heights, with the whip-slinging puzzles and platforming that feels mostly natural and fluid. I say "mostly natural" because Chibi-Robo relies so heavily on his whip that other platforming falls to the wayside. Baubles dot the stage, each one extending your whip (either the reflexive whip or the “charged” longer whip) to allow for access to other areas, and a certain amount is always necessary to move on. Each stage starts the whip back at square one, so there’s no collective aspect to the experience, and therefore little reason to go back to earlier levels and explore further; in fact, the way the stages are designed, there’s rarely even the need to go back within the level to explore and treasure hunt further.
There are plenty of levels altogether—six main worlds with six levels and a boss unique to each—and each has a different environment to slightly change things up. But there’s no real need to go back to many (if any) of them. With the stages relying so heavily on the zipline, it quickly becomes so clear how to work through every stage with little effort. Difficulty is almost entirely absent here. Sure, there are some puzzle sections that require some touchy platforming, but by and large I was reminded of Kirby titles: everything is laid out, nothing too complicated, everything so easily within reach that developers may as well have put everything on the same platform level.
That said, there are a few places where tricky shots need to be made, but they feel more designed to trap or trick than to be tricky. For example, on one ice level with giant cubes slowly sliding away from you, if you stand on the edge to make sure you catch one, you're likely to be squished… even though you're still on the original platform and the ice cube appears to otherwise drop right in front of you. I have trouble figuring out if that was intentional or just rude. And for more difficult shots, there are subtle clues to help guide you to catch the correct angle of timing, so it’s not like you need to “try” after discovering them in the first few stages.
To add some spice, there are some stages and situations that call for temporary power-ups: lighting Chibi-Robo on fire to melt ice, or freezing him to cool off and harden lava flows. These are grab-and-go without much thought in using them as best as possible, but they break up the whipping action which is nice. There are entire stages aimed at breaking that action as well: using a submarine (which is sooooooo sllloooowww), floating and swinging on balloons (which is also sooooooo slllooooowwww), water skiing up or down rows, and sliding over the ice avoiding traps and obstacles (both of which are definitely more fun and engaging, and not nearly as slow). There are some issues with controlling how high or low you may float in the sub, or the awkward and unintuitive movement of floating with the balloons, but with how nice the faster games are it’s all basically a wash.
There are six stages and a boss level for each sequence of levels, and at the end of each level you have to take a spin of the wheel to see how many spaces you'll be forced to move. This means there’s a decent enough chance that you can be forced to play through the same stages again, which if you really hated one or just don’t have any interest, is discouraging to be pushed into. If I had to play through those underwater sections again I would’ve put the game down entirely, they were just… So… SLOW.
All of that said, it might sound like I hated some parts of the game. And in a way, I did. But the controls are easy enough to grasp and responsive enough that they’re fun, and figuring out the few tricks in the game are satisfying (even when driven into the ground). Visually it’s impressive, shiny and pretty or brooding and dark, and the 3D effect is kept mostly to a minimum. The Chibi-Robo amiibo is included with the game, which is mostly relegated to the collectibles—posed models of CR, his friends, his ship, that sort of group—and the aggregated points total of every stage completed. Like many titles it starts off solid, but once it finds a groove it simply stays there and makes the latter half of the experience more a grind to the finish than a pleasure.
The amiibo coming with the game is definitely a perk because it’s friggin’ adorable. The game is only an average experience. It has plenty of levels but many are the same kind of grind. Half of the non-platforming stages are fun, and the other are torturously placid. Environments do change from world to world, but the challenges are almost identical. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. Could’ve used more “zip," I think.
(Oh, and the executive producer was Satoru Iwata. Thanks again for all your work, good sir.)