Poor little robot…
I’ve been a fan of Chibi-Robo! ever since the original was released for the GameCube back in 2006. It was a weird, adorable adventure game with a tiny robot who was tasked with cleaning up an enormous house, with happy musical sound effects to accompany every single action including just walking around. I even enjoyed Chibi-Robo! Photo Finder from a couple years back, which changed up the formula to try something completely new with the franchise.
Nintendo has altered the formula yet again with Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, a side-scrolling platformer with grappling mechanics. Many of the series staples are here, which means it definitely still feels like a Chibi-Robo! game even though it has taken on a new genre. Unfortunately, Zip Lash has a few too many missteps that hold it back considerably.
Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash (3DS)
Released: October 9, 2015
In Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, pint-sized aliens have invaded Earth, stealing resources along with everyone’s favorite snacks, and it’s up to Chibi-Robo and his partner Telly (who is now shaped like a computer) to save the day. Chibi-Robo will travel the globe, putting a stop to the aliens’ plans and rescuing any snacks he might come across (all based on real name-brand snacks and candies from around the world).
To navigate the areas around him, Chibi-Robo uses his plug as a whip to destroy enemies, collect items, grapple onto certain surfaces, or helicopter across pits. The plug can ricochet off of walls as well, opening up a lot of possibilities for interesting platforming as the player tries to angle the perfect shot in order to reach distant objects. The cord starts off rather short at a measly 6 inches at the beginning of each level, but it can be lengthened up to 120 inches by collecting blue orbs.
Aside from the plug mechanics, there are plenty of jumping sections, puzzles to solve, enemy hordes to destroy, items to collect, and even a few levels which have Chibi-Robo skateboarding, wakeboarding, and traveling by balloon to reach the end. There are also some pretty cool boss fights to round out each world. Just looking at the platforming mechanics alone, Zip Lash is a perfectly competent entry to the genre. Each world changes things up with new ideas and interesting layouts, so that the gameplay doesn’t become stale too quickly.
Once again, Chibi-Robo’s health is indicated by his power supply, which slowly depletes as he’s moving around and decreases significantly if he falls into a pit or gets hit by an enemy. He can recharge at any outlet by inserting his plug, which will cost a few watts (watts are earned by recycling trash). He can also buy spare batteries as a backup.
For the completionist gamers out there, each level is filled with several hidden collectibles to find, including the aforementioned name-brand snacks, special medallions, Chibi-Tots playing hide-and-seek, toys to talk to, and trash to clean up and convert into energy. If something is missed the first time through, levels can be replayed in order to search more thoroughly, but only after certain conditions are met. Which brings me to my least favorite aspect of Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash.
Most platforming games like this feature a map with each level laid out on a path, which are then played sequentially. Zip Lash tries to subvert this common feature by implementing the “Destination Wheel.” After each level, Chibi-Robo will spin the wheel to select a number. This number determines the amount of spaces he’ll move on the map, which in turn determines the next level to play even if it’s not the next level in the sequence. Once every level on a map has been discovered and beaten, the player can then proceed to the next map. Basically, this means that most people will be playing the levels out of order, which could have been a neat idea.
The problem, however, is that maps are laid out in a circle, and if the player loops around and lands on a level they have already played, they will be forced to play it over again in order to proceed and pick another level. Because of this, this one simple idea of the Destination Wheel single-handedly demolished my excitement for Zip Lash. Being forced to replay levels due to bad luck is not a fun mechanic. The only reason I can think of for this to exist in its current state would be to artificially extend the game’s length, and that’s not something I can get behind. They even included a separate wheel to spin for boss levels, which is completely pointless and a waste of time as there’s only one space on the entire wheel. The Boss Wheel might have been a funny joke if the Destination Wheel wasn’t already such an annoyance.
Granted, there are ways to sort of bypass the wheel. Wheel numbers can be purchased with moolah (the in-game currency) so that the player will be more likely to land on a number they want. It’s also possible to get more than one spin, assuming the player was skilled enough to hit the gold or silver flying saucers at the end of the last level. Finally, once every level has been beaten and the world has been cleared, players will no longer have to spin the wheel for that world and can freely select whichever level they wish. If only it were possible to do that from the start…
Unfortunately, the Destination Wheel wasn’t the only problem I had with Zip Lash. As if being forced to replay levels due to poor spinning wasn’t enough, certain areas of each level will only become accessible after the levels have been completed. These areas are totally optional and are only used for the chance to obtain costumes for Chibi-Robo (which can also be obtained by finding codes posted on Miiverse), but it still sucks to have to replay every level again, possibly for a third time or more if the player is really unlucky, just to find everything. I also had some problems with the lack of checkpoints during the skateboard/wakeboard segments, but that seems like a comparatively small issue next to everything else.
All that wheel nonsense sadly soured Zip Lash for me, which is a huge shame because almost everything else about the game is fun and charming. The new platforming mechanics work well, the boss fights are exciting, and Chibi-Robo himself is as cute as always. I would have been content with this game had it not been for the awful Destination Wheel.
If you’re a die-hard Chibi-Robo! fan, or if the possibility of having to replay the same levels over and over again doesn’t bother you too much, then Zip Lash might be for you. Unfortunately, it’s tough for me to give this game a good recommendation after the frustrating time I had with it. I still love you, Chibi-Robo, but this was not your best effort!
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]