The Chibi-Robo games have always taken joy in the simple things. For the original Nintendo GameCube and Nintendo DS game, it was about taking pride in keeping areas clean. The Nintendo 3DS game, Chibi-Robo! Photo Finder tasked people with exploring their environments. With Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, it’s about exploring and zipping around his environment.
It’s an odd sort of platformer. Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash is a game that relishes in allowing people to explore and reaching new heights, but doesn’t make it too difficult to reach these areas. Rather than skill, the traditional levels are more about attention. If a person looks carefully, skip Ltd. has broadcast almost everything. In areas where Chibi-Robo will need to send his plug flying through small spaces until it bounces and reaches a place where it can catch, there will often be some environmental indicator to provide a hint as to where someone should stand and launch the cord. Suspicious walls all tend to look the same. It’s worth it with rewards like snacks, Chibi Tots, medals, coins, and lost baby aliens lurking about.
Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash even encourages players to take their time. The watts system returns and acts as a timer for each level. If power runs out, it’s game over for the little guy. This is an unlikely prospect, since he’s constantly earning additional energy. Some enemies drop power when defeated, and others have a plug built right into their faces. Toss the cord at those opponents’ heads, and Chibi-Robo will get a recharge as he defeats the foe. The busted up parts from fallen enemies and collected trash can also be turned into watts at the Chibi House. Combine that with liberal application of checkpoints, and you have a game that may look like it’s trying to challenge a player, but is really giving you the time to do whatever you want.
It goes well with Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash’s overall ambiance. While the game does take a bit of an unexpected turn at the end, the situation doesn’t feel dire in the majority of its levels. Chibi-Robo has to attack robots and sees alien invaders, but at the same time returning to levels gives him the opportunity to aid these very enemies by returning their lost children. He’s searching for stolen resources, but the only ones we see him recover are an assortment of worldwide snacks. The best way I can describe it is very Nintendo.
I guess you could consider it a more approachable sort of Castlevania game. You wouldn’t expect Chibi-Robo to make for an adequate action hero, but it works. The cord mechanic is useful as a grappling hook and weapon, resulting in attacks and actions that look rather elegant. The attacks move so quickly that it’s difficult to realize this, until you see the virtual figurines earned by using an amiibo with the game. But the rappelling is easy to see, and there’s nothing more satisfying than watching a fully expended cord bounce perfectly off of walls to collect every coin in a coin challenge room or perfectly meander through a maze to reach a place it can dock at the end. Seeing Chibi-Robo zip around as he reaches each area is a delight.
Especially since the controls make it easy to ensure Chibi-Robo always gets where he needs to go. The general whip attack can quickly take out enemies, snatch items, or let the robot reach slightly higher areas. Use it while jumping, and he’ll even briefly hover in midair. The Zip Lash attack is even better, as someone can exactly determine where it goes, using the directional pad for more precise angles and the circle pad for quicker whips. The cord is even a great means of seeing ahead in areas, as the camera follows if you toss an fully extended into unseen territory.
So many right design decisions make the wrong ones more noticeable, sadly. Instead of proceeding from one level to the next chronologically, a wheel is spun after each completed area to decide where Chibi-Robo goes next. You can move between one and three spaces, and are able to buy extra panels at the wheel page when a level ends. How many spins you get is determined by which color UFO the robot hits at the end of the level. The downside to this is, if you spin and land on a level you’ve already visited, you have to go through it again. There’s no way to skip it.
The wheel does tend to “cheat” a bit once more levels have been unlocked, increasing the odds of visiting a new area, but it’s frustrating when it doesn’t go in your favor and the same place must be repeated to unlock the boss stage. Fortunately, after completely beating all levels and a boss in a location, you can travel and revisit whichever one you’d like.
The other downside are occasional gimmick levels. Some aren’t so bad, like one where Chibi-Robo takes an impromptu balloon ride. Others, like the Skater Bot level in the second world, are. In these situations, there are no checkpoints. You have to get through the level in one piece, without losing life or momentum, or it’s over. With Skater Bot, there was one jump I couldn’t make after 5 tries. So, I had to go ahead and pay 500 Moolah to skip it. This automatically cleared the level, gave me any snacks I’d acquired in chests I’d reached before giving up, and let me move on.
My only worry is that Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash may be doomed to a life of obscurity. The Nintendo 3DS game comes out October 9, right in the midst of the busy season. This is a pleasant and pleasing little game that will delight people who enjoy platformers that allow people to access almost every inch of a level, but may have trouble standing against the Disgaea 5s, Rock Band 4s, and Lego Dimensions of the world.