Poor little Chibi Robo. He’s always seemed like the little electrical outlet that couldn’t. His debut on the GameCube wasn’t too bad, with the 3D platforming and puzzle solving being fun and innovative. Running around looking for an electrical outlet to charge yourself with gave interacting with the world a sort of desperate and thought-provoking challenge to it. Now, ten years later, Chibi Robo seems to be on his last charge.
Chibi Robo Zip Lash attempts to be the first 2D platformer in Chibi Robo history. The problem is, a 2D platform/puzzle game released by a 1st party Nintendo developer is sort of like the white noise of Nintendo’s video game product. It’s just what they do in between re-releasing their entire SNES library and poking dead horses so hard that the development team could be mistaken for an archaeological dig site. So what they did was they tried to make a game that utilized the different characteristics of Chibi Robo’s character and insert it into the 2D platform/puzzler.
Chibi Robo is essentially a bipedal Roomba. He’s been shipped off to space to keep the world’s satellites cleaner than a Catholic cathedral, but notices some illegal aliens hopping over the Kuiper Belt. They land on Earth and begin stealing vital resources such as shipping containers and piles of metal lying out in the open. It’s now apparently all up to Chibi Robo to save the day, since he doesn’t seem to have anything better to do.
Rather than jumping on enemies and getting certain powers to get through stages, Chibi Robo Zip Lash changes the formula completely by having you fling your electrical outlet at enemies and using certain powers of the electrical outlet to open doors or change aspects of Chibi Robo to gain certain powers to…alright, so it doesn’t do too much to innovate. Jumping on enemies stuns them and gives you a few seconds to aim your extension cord at enemies, which flies completely horizontal anyway so there’s no need for that. Grabbing blue and red orbs on the map extend the range of your extension cord, but reset at the end of each level for no discernible reason other than the needed challenge of regathering them for the next level.
The gameplay feels much too similar to Bionic Commando from the NES, except without the shooting or the ability to grapple anywhere or the ability to choose which level you play on. Which level you play is determined upon playing a game of Twister. You spin a wheel, land on a number, then move your ship that many levels ahead. The entire system promotes the accidental replaying of levels you already have beaten. You can stack the spinner to just the number you need, but doing so takes up more time than trying to find a needle in a hay field. Select the buy tile option, select which number, confirm, place tile, confirm that you want to place the tile there. The system is more riddled with roadblocks and unnecessary paperwork than getting something done at the DMV.
Skip Ltd. must be taking some tips from the guys at Black Ops 3 that think that linear, progressive stories being pulled by a narrative string are bollocks. This has the consequence that every level has to be somewhat similar in difficulty, which is using the term “difficulty” lightly. If games with any challenge were set up on a 1-10 scale, with Dark Souls being “owowow oh my god,” Chibi Robo Zip Lash wouldn’t be on the scale for fear of asking players to possibly read a challenging word in the chart’s title.
Zip Lash is riddled with numerous features that have no purpose. Players can collect brand-name snacks that they trade to a plane in another dimension for coins. The wheel of misfortune that you spin to move from level to level is explained just as well as why hitting UFO’s of different metals (bronze, silver, gold) at the end of a mission gives you different numbers of spins in order to progress through each world. His extension cord losing all of its length every mission is understood from a development standpoint, but is still completely ignored in-game. Maybe Chibi Robo gets bored and gives it the ol’ garbage compress. These are all things that just happen, and the player is expected to accept these happenings while playing in lackluster levels against simple opponents.
There is one feature that shows that someone on the development team was trying to think in an innovative direction. Instead of a generic health bar or some sort of one-hit system, Chibi Robo’s health is determined by his charge. While he’s awake and out on the field, his charge slowly depletes, starting at 999. If he’s hit by an enemy, he loses more of that charge. He recharges himself by finding batteries or plugging himself in to an electrical outlet.
Out of everything Zip Lash has put forth, this is the only thing that is unique to Chibi Robo Zip Lash. But instead of using it in an interesting way, like having him consume charge to open doors or even throw his extension cord, they opted to just use it as a slow timer for the game. The chances of dying due to his one charge a second loss is so minimal that it might as well have not even been done. They must have fired the guy who came up with the idea before he could implement it any farther, because Lost Planet was really close to doing the concept of “constant threat of death” well, and it easily could have transferred to Chibi Robo Zip Lash.
There was some real potential with Chibi Robo Zip Lash and the entire Chibi Robo franchise. There’s so many routes developers can take with him. They can turn it into a challenging survival game, where energy consumption is much higher, and finding resources to gain energy are much more scarce. It could take a Metroidvania route where he gains certain abilities over time, having to clean up an entire city by accessing new areas and flinging himself around like a Scottish Highland Dancer. But no, Chibi Robo was squeezed of all the innovation and fun like a used lime for a tequila shot. Instead, they replaced that with some generic 2D platforming concepts skinned over a pre-existing property. There’s always next generation, Chibi Robo. Zip Lash? More like Rip Pasht…this title and buy a Mario platformer.