Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash is vastly different from all the other titles in the Chibi-Robo! series — dating back to the original 2005/2006 Chibi-Robo! on GameCube. Previous titles were centered around the four-inch tall battery-powered metallic robot, Chibi-Robo, exploring vast, non-linear 3D environments. Zip Lash on Nintendo 3DS, however, breaks that traditional gameplay formula and introduces a 2D side-scrolling platform experience that I found fun, frustrating, and confusing.
If you’re looking for some elaborate, unique story to compliment Chibi-Robo’s new adventure, it’s not happening. Instead, you’re given a humdrum “aliens are invading the world” plot line — nothing new or creative that hasn’t already been used for countless games. On that note, one could easily say the same about Super Mario’s stale story line. What I appreciate about Zip Lash is that our metal hero can now use his Chibi-Plug in new and exciting ways. The whip lash technique lets him twirl his plug around like a lasso before sending it sailing to take out enemies, momentarily hover to clear bottomless pits, or latch onto nearby ledges. The zip lash serves the same purpose, but it’s more powerful, has a longer reach, and can be bounced off walls — basic geometry skills apply. Both methods can retrieve objects such as Boost-Balls, in-game coin currency (moolah), or Chibi-Batteries to keep Chibi-Robo charged up. But once, Chibi-Robo runs out of power (watts) during his adventures, it’s game over. Old-school Nintendo fans may remember Capcom’s 1988 NES title Bionic Commando, which introduced the grappling hook-like mechanic for future Nintendo games.
Speaking of which, I found it a bit tedious during early gameplay that I couldn’t sling my plug vertically while using the more commonly used whip lash. Instead, Chibi-Robo is limited to horizontal and diagonal trajectory. Comparatively, the zip lash allows for a precise 360 degrees — adjusted by using either the Circle Pad or D-pad. Its only drawback is that it must be charged for about two seconds (by holding down the Y button) before letting it rip. In later stages, accurately timing the zip lash to find treasure or solve puzzles will require some practice and skill. Oh, hey, collecting those Boost-Balls I mentioned earlier increases the overall length of your plug, which comes in handy when reaching out for far-away objects or when wanting to keep enemies at bay.
I admire the development team’s willingness to take a risk with 2D platforming gameplay, but I can’t say it was for the greater good. In fact, I feel it was a missed opportunity; it defeated the entire purpose of what the Chibi-Robo! series is so well-known for. Instead of assuming the role of a pint-sized robot inside a larger-than-life environment, you’re stuck jumping and hopping and dodging your way through 36 platform levels. Don’t we already have plenty of side-scrolling platformers on 3DS? I suppose what makes this slightly worse is that there are better platform experiences out there. It’s an odd decision indeed, but I did enjoy Chibi-Robo Zip Lash.
Chibi-Robo starts his adventure in Oceania (World 1) and ultimately endures the cold, harsh environment of The South Pole (World 6). Visits to North Africa, The Caribbean, Europe, and North America are also on our robot buddy’s itinerary. Each World features six levels (plus one boss level) inspired by its geographical location along with themed music that fits quite nicely. One completely separate final boss patiently waits to rub elbows with you after the final world. The background environments such as flowers, watering cans, and trees never fully gave me the sense that I was only four inches tall; I often never stopped to smell the roses, so to speak, because my focus was on platforming in the foreground. Overall, I found the art style to be a bit too bland and minimalistic. Enemy variety lacked too, with each one posing little threat and instead acting more like laughable stage obstacles. I did find satisfaction in the boss fights, however. Each boss was cleverly designed and fun to fight, albeit a bit on the easy side.
Just when I started to feel like gameplay was becoming repetitive, something new and fresh drew me back into the action. In one stage, Chibi-Robo pilots a submarine and fires torpedoes at the opposition. In another, he’s storming a huge Castle in Europe. In another, he’s being pulled behind a boat on skis while collecting items, avoiding enemy-laden waters, and performing radical tricks off ramps. Nintendo did a great job ensuring enough platforming variety was offered. Well-hidden nooks and crannies in each stage offer fun distractions — moolah mini-games, hidden coins, and snack collecting — away from normal gameplay. In addition, you’ll interact with a colorful cast of characters; half a dozen charismatic toys (one for each world) will task you with retrieving yummy snacks for them, lost aliens need to be rescued and returned to their alien ship, and Chibi-tots (micro-sized robots) will want to play hide-and-seek with you.
Here’s where Zip Lash loses a bit of its shiny coating.
Upon completing each level, you’ll whip out your trusty zip lash and take aim at one of three colored UFOs: bronze (1 point), silver (2 points), and gold (3 points). The bronze UFO is the largest target with silver and gold being smaller and smallest, respectively. The stage won’t end until you hit one of them, which makes it explode. Points are then converted to turns for use with an eight-space (sliced like a pizza!) destination wheel, which ultimately decides what level in the current world you’ll play next. Let’s say you just completed 1-1 and you nailed the bronze UFO for a single point. The destination wheel, mind you, might already have spots for “1,” “2,” “3,” or “4.” Since you have one point, or turn, you get to spin the wheel once. If the destination wheel lands on a 3, you’ll skip over levels 1-2 and 1-3 only to end up on 1-4. If you had two (silver UFO) or three (gold UFO) turns, your chances of landing on a space you want only increases. Here’s the problem: you could end up being forced (yes, forced) to play the same level multiple times in order to progress through the world’s levels. It’s an absolutely ridiculous and pointless gimmick that literally serves no purpose whatsoever. My only guess is that the developers incorporated this to try and provide a somewhat non-linear style of level progression when, in fact, it just proves to be frustrating and incredibly idiotic. In a platformer such as this, I expect to progress through levels in an orderly fashion. The only thing going for this flaw is that panels — numbered 1-6 — can be purchased with moolah. Essentially, if you aren’t very good at spinning the wheel (you can time it right), you can just keep buying “1” panels to ensure you go directly to the next level without the game telling you where to go. A boss destination wheel also exists; panels can be purchased to weaken the boss. Finally, when a world is complete, players to freely travel to the stage of their choice — free of time-wasting gimmickry. Oh, if any level (including boss levels) proves to be too challenging you can buy your way out of it. Each level provides plenty of checkpoints, so players shouldn’t ever need to skip past a level because it’s too difficult.
Whenever Chibi-Robo’s not thwarting the evil alien assault he’s happily — and safely — chilling inside the Chibi-House with his pal Telly, a flying TV robot who offers him advice during journey. Telly’s kinda like Navi from The Legend of Zelda series, but not as needy or annoying. Of course, Chibi-Robo can plug-in to a convenient power outlet to juice up when running low on power. Worth noting, charging outlets are made abundantly available in various locations of each level. Firing up the Chibi-PC grants access to stage information, albums for collected snacks and trash, the Citrusoft Supply Dept, where items can be purchased, and the Chibi-Outfit Network. The Outfit Network lets players work together via Miiverse to piece together 5-digit codes to unlock special outfits for Chibi-Robo. A single digit for each outfit can be earned by rescuing those lost aliens we discussed a few paragraphs above. However, there is a small chance of unlocking the full outfit after returning an alien to its ship. I’m currently parading around in a Link outfit I found, and it feels pretty good! Finally, collected trash or monster debris can be thrown into a generator to produce spare wattage for Chibi-Robo. To top it all off, players can register the Chibi-Robo amiibo figure with Telly to level it up or turn into Super Chibi-Robo, a more powerful (watt-wise) version of our little friend; daily fortunes and the Chibi-Capsule vending machine can also be used to access rare trophy-like figures.
If there’s one thing that kept me coming back to Zip Lash, it was my appetite for succulent and savory virtual snacks. Nintendo collaborated with numerous snack food labels to incorporate the snack element into the game. Those snack-greedy toy characters we talked about earlier provide you with proper, historical descriptions for each of the 54 snack items once you fork over the goods. Tootsie Roll, Pez Candy, LOTTE, EZAKI GLICO. — just a few examples of the many name brands involved. What’s wildly interesting is that each snack, and its packaging, can be viewed and fully rotated in 3D. While I really enjoyed learning about the new snacks, I can’t help but think anything other than this being some big advertising effort. Weird.
Nintendo, skip Ltd., and Vanpool Games brought fans a new Chibi-Robo! game. Many longtime fans of the niche series might shy away from the title due to its drastic departure from immersive 3D exploration, but I’d advise against it. Despite its questionable quirks, Zip Lash offers fans a respectable — and fun — 2D platforming experience with a decent amount of content. It wasn’t designed for the hardcore platformer fans, but it’s enjoyable and still shines with the same Chibi charm and cuteness found in past titles. The average player should be able to squeeze out a good 20+ hours of gameplay. And, oh, don’t forget about the cool outfits and delicious snacks that are waiting to be discovered. Lots of them.
Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash for Nintendo 3DS launched in Japan and North America on October 8, 2015 and October 9, 2015, respectively. It will be released in Europe on November 6, 2015.
Review copy provided by Nintendo