Apparently people like to clean in the springtime. I just like to play video games. Chibi-Robo is a game about cleaning, a game about cleaning with a toothbrush as a 2 inch tall robot. An already tedious task scaled to “fuck you” proportions. Still want to clean? Doesn’t matter, because your real task is to repair a broken family, time travel to uncover deep secrets of the past, and discover/provide a free and infinite source of energy. Good thing Chibi-Robo can put things in his head. That really comes in handy.
Plug into adventure!
This is a game about exploration to its core. Finding a way to get up to a kitchen counter, or a small table, is surprisingly satisfying. Every room in Chibi-Robo is separated into floor or not-floor, and almost every room you enter starting from the floor. The objective, many times, is to reach a higher ground, so climbing is important. Chibi-Robo can jump up small ledges, climb ladders or cords, and push and pull certain objects into place. Beyond this, a propeller can let him hover for a short distance, or fall slowly.
Gravity is one of the biggest enemies of the game, since falling takes away a large amount of your energy. Since you’ll be climbing a lot, you’ll always increase the amount of potential damage by yourself, which makes it distinctly different from other games. This direct relationship between progression and danger never makes the game feel unfair, since it’s not the game’s fault that you were at the top of a bookshelf in the first place.
Another enemy is time. Manifest in the night/day timer, which can be set to 5, 10, or 15 minutes from the start of the game, changes how the house operates. During the day, the family will be up and about, and during the night the toys come alive. As a result, certain parts of the house will have certain barriers, like a bedroom door being closed at night. Regardless of which time of day it is, Chibi-Robo runs on battery, and needs to charge. The energy meter is constantly depleting, and the player needs to find an outlet lest it runs out. Locating outlets is strangely fun, since it’s not something you normally think about when walking into a room, and forces you to look at the familiar in a different way.
Upon charging, the player is offered to save. When I first played this game, I didn’t think twice about it. But after revisiting it, I’ve discovered this simple question is a stroke of genius. By 2005, developers got pretty creative about saving. Many games had autosaves, which tried to keep the player from thinking about how their progress was stored, but manual saves were still around on consoles. Take for example Resident Evil 4, released the same year. Whenever approaching a typewriter, the player could save as many times as they wanted. There was a counter for how many times they saved, but it wasn’t encouraged or discouraged at all. If a player were low on health and ammo, saving would only let them mitigate losses. But in Chibi-Robo, saving is tied to refilling your only resource. Every time you save, it is after you are fully equipped and ready to take on a task. Before climbing a large structure, you would already want to charge up, so why not save as well? I found myself constantly saving, since there was no reason not to, while I normally avoid saving as much as possible in Resident Evil 4 to add to the difficulty. There’s no difficulty to be lost when saving in Chibi-Robo, so the game constantly offering it is more than welcome.
This begs the question, is Chibi-Robo a difficult game? Gameplay-wise, the game makes great use of turning each “get from point A to point B” into a puzzle, so is this actually a puzzle game? Sure, there is combat (it’s not very deep), and you have a health bar (basically), and there’s a lot of time spent not solving puzzles. Besides, the “rules” for each “puzzle” never need to be taught or explained, since everyone knows how gravity works. This makes it closest to point-and-click adventure games, but the direct control of the character makes it seem more of an action game than it really is. Which is good because point-and-click games are boring as hell.
Plug into divorce!
This game is about a divorce. Or, at least, a broken family which has no source of income, an irresponsible father who watches children’s TV shows, a mother suffering anxiety and depression, and a child with mental issues developed to mask the fact her parents don’t get along. Which generally means divorce somewhere down the line. And you (yes you) are the catalyst for the downward spiral. Doesn’t that make you feel great?
I’m not exaggerating, and neither is the game. This isn’t one of those clickbait gametheory bullshit conclusions from reading between the lines between the lines. From the very first cutscene, the tension between the parents is palpable. The husband sleeps on the couch and tells you exactly why he has to. The daughter normally only talks in ribbits, but sometimes goes out of her way to communicate. She also can’t sleep, and spends the nights outside her mom’s room.
Going any further would probably spoil the plot, but it doesn’t get much worse. The game’s entire focus isn’t on the family members’ problems, rather the general goal of making all of them (and the other characters) happy. But having such real issues in this sort of game in the first place is strange enough to point out, and makes it more worth checking out. Since the game already has good design and gameplay, why wouldn’t you already check it out?
The only real downside to this game, which persists throughout, is the dialogue. Thankfully, it’s not voiced, it uses sounds for each word like in Banjo & Kazooie, but you can’t skip through the dialogue. At first it’s a non-issue, since everything goes pretty quickly, but some characters insist on talking slowly at times, which means you have to sit through the text scroll. If it’s your first time playing, you are less likely to want to skip it, but repeat playthroughs are bogged down by this shit.
Another downside to this game is how awful Nintendo’s treatment to the series has been. There has only been one true successor, gameplay-wise, to the original, which was only released in Japan. The other games have been awful, gimmicky abominations which feel nothing like the original. It’s like if Nintendo made Metroid in 1986 and then released three different versions of Other M in the following years.
Ok maybe the Other M comparison was a little rough but you know
Also published on Medium.