Chibi Robo always seemed an intriguing game, right from the very first screens that appeared. However, like Metroid Prime at its early stage of development, it was seemingly heading into oblivion (Developers Skip originally adopting a point & click interface) until Shigeru Miyamoto intervened to make minor tweaks that make all the difference.
The initial promise seems to have borne fruit in the finished product. Everything is rich and colourful and has a solid look and feel to it. People who are not fans of garish, colourful games should definitely give this a wide berth. Audio is superb, with bright jolly tunes and lots of excellent SFX going on in-game. The story begins with Chibi Robo being bought by the man of the house for his little girl's birthday (although with him being nothing more than a big kid at heart, it’s debatable who its really for). Chibi is barely the size of a hand, which means the house is a massive playpen to explore. Game-play is straightforward. When interacting with an item, a large ‘!’ appears, which will trigger an event. It's nice & simple and does the job brilliantly.
Game play is split into day and night, with each cycle having Chibi clearing up, solving puzzles or triggering major events, which in turn bring about a cut-scene. As the game progresses, it becomes clear that some tasks are naturally easier done at night than during the day and vice versa. With the whole house (kitchen, living room, garden, lounge, mum and dad’s bedroom and Jenny’s room) at your character's disposal, you soon find yourself with plenty to do. Couple this with a truckload of NPC popping up (a Superhero style character, a mummy and a Fortune Teller amongst others), time flies by, but you also soon discover Chibi's limitations as well. He constantly needs powering up (done rather niftily via the plug that hangs from his back). By plugging into any nearby wall socket, he will receive the necessary juice to carry on, so you need to plan his route accordingly. Luckily, this situation can be remedied by collecting happiness points, which are acquired by doing good deeds, chores or interacting with other characters (e.g. cleaning up Tao’s paw prints or collecting trash). What sounds like menial chores becomes an addictive race to gather points and increase Chibi's power range. It's to the developers' credit that the game never decends into a slog, but invites the player to become more caught up in the varied gameplay.
Upgrades occur at the base station, which is a Chibi Robo style head that sits in the corner of the living room. At the end of each day, Chibi returns here to get his points added up and recharge etc. There are also coins for Chibi to collect. These are given at the same time as he gets heart points from NPC and also from Chibi styled faces (either exposed or hidden in the various different parts of the house). These coins are used to upgrade stuff like his gun arm, the ability to extend the cycle from 5 to 15 or to buy seeds to plant in the garden. There is a huge amount to capture your attention. Like all the best games, you look up and find that hours have past in the blink of an eye. Keen explorers will discover exactly how much is to be done very quickly.
The game does not have any English text and may seem daunting for some, but in many ways, this adds to the charm. It expresses itself so well visually, that you figure out where to go next via cut-scenes which hint at the NPC's wants and needs. Help is also at hand in the form of a superb translation at Gamefaqs, which will give you the back-story of the game if you are interested.
Chibi also gathers a fair amount of equipment along the way. For example, a baby's spoon (for digging…naturally) and a toothbrush (for cleaning). What really grabs the player is the attention to detail. Simple things, like every movement Chibi makes is accompanied with a little tune (this changes depending on what surface you walk on) or the rewards he gets from a member of the family for giving them a gift (flower for mum, Jenny’s dummy returned to her etc). The player soon starts to form bonds with these characters and all the toys that are dotted around the house. A firm favourite was the little egg soldiers in the lounge. These guys are scared stiff of Tao after they lost one of their troops in ‘battle’. When first encountered, they think Chibi is an enemy and he is unable to pass them. You can get around this situation by finding a cup in the kitchen. Little touches like this really put a smile on your face while playing and keep you coming back for more.
Another addictive quality is the different suits Chibi can acquire. Whether it’s a frog suit received after you save 2 frogs from a Lego t-rex (that makes rain fall in the back garden), the Tao suit, or a personal favourite, the ghost costume (along with the hilarious special it has), the player finds themself looking forward to finishing a quest in the hope of acquiring a new outfit. In the end, you really do feel a great deal of satisfaction upon completion, but tinged with sadness at finishing.
It is a stand-out title without any question. The game play, interaction, and at times fairly dark storyline, really do add up to a superb little game.