There’s fun to be had in Chibi Robo: Zip Lash, after you get used to mind-boggling design decisions and a general lack of charm.
Chibi Robo: Zip Lash is a collection of unfortunate design decisions, surrounding what is sometimes a good, but often only adequate, platformer.
Odds are if you’re a fan of the original Gamecube adventure game, you already know that Zip Lash is not a continuation of those gameplay fundamentals- it is barely a successor at all. Chibi Robo is still present, sure, as are some basic sound effects (such as when answering “yes” or “no” when prompted on occasion).
Beyond that, Chibi Robo: Zip Lash leaves the original’s charm and personality behind. What remains is a visually uninteresting and relatively fun action-platformer.
Gone is the larger than life world, where a kitchen counter is a mountain to be scaled. You’ll be crossing about 42 stages based on rather trite themes- North Africa presents your basic Desert World, and Europe gives you the Forest World- which could have been pulled out of any other platformer. It seems like a missed opportunity that could have seen Chibi Robo jumping and zip lashing through two-dimensional representations of homes and neighborhoods, which would have given the title a much needed stronger identity.
The actual platforming itself is entertaining enough to keep you playing. The Whip Lash and Zip Lash of the title sees our puny hero swinging from ceilings, pelting mechanical alien robots, and crossing large gaps while interacting with the environment. The traditional stages are the game’s highlight, though they don’t particularly stand out in the now crowded genre. The occasional gimmick stages, about one per world, on the other hand, are fairly atrocious. They are often one-hit death affairs and range from cumbersome (when floating by balloons) to unresponsive (when driving around in a submarine).
The only frustrations to come of playing Chibi Robo are in the design decisions, rather than from difficulty. The game will rarely challenge you, even in your attempts to collect every item and complete levels without using checkpoints or taking damage.
One obtrusive decision is in how you select the level you’re going to play. Instead of picking from a selection of stages from a world map, like most games, you must spin a wheel that allows you to move one, two, or three spaces in a circle of six levels. At worst, you could be forced to replay levels you’ve already finished in order to progress. At best, you’re paying gold to ensure you get the roll you want, in order to continue to move forward, and not back.
And don’t exit a boss battle if you’ve got to go to work or want to switch to another game. You’ll similarly have to replay a level you’ve already completed just to spin the boss wheel once more.
Once you do beat a world’s boss, you’ll be able to pick the stage you want from that world, but I can only wonder why you couldn’t in the first place. And in truth, after a couple worlds you’ll realize it’s smartest to just spin a one on the wheel anyway, to do every stage in order and eliminate the risk of having to replay a stage.
At the very least, if you do manage to spin a bad wheel (and can’t reroll, decided by hitting one of three moving bells at the end of every stage), and are forced to redo a level, it’s not completely identical to the first attempt. You can finish collecting hidden snacks (a highlight of the game, as each snack comes from different parts of the world, with a focus on Japanese and American delicacies like Pocky and Junior Mints), or hunting down gold coins, or attempt to escort a tiny alien to a separate goal point somewhere in the level.
Succeeding in bringing these alien babies to a shrine gives you a piece of a puzzle (or rather, a five-digit code). You must then turn to Miiverse in order to find the other missing digits in order to unlock a costume. The costumes themselves are hugely varied and numerous, including nods to other Nintendo titles (like Dillion from Dillion’s Rolling Western or Tingle from The Legend of Zelda).
The game does feature a handful of toys (one per world), eccentric and entertaining personalities in search for the world’s candy. Delivering a specific number will unlock another costume based on that toy, but the true joy comes from interacting with such characters as a Nutcracker fan of ballerina or a maiden looking for destined love (and no, it’s not Chibi Robo), and listening to them give you details on the candy in your collection.
For every stumble that Chibi Robo Zip Lash makes, for every step away from its identity, there’s something to like. While the worlds are bland, there’s still fun to be had jumping and swinging across the varied stages. While the gimmick stages are little more than a headache, the boss battles are a good time. While much of what makes Chibi Robo Chibi Robo has been sapped away, there are little pieces left, like the snack collectibles, the odd toy characters, and the rare moments you get a true sense of Chibi Robo’s size (when there’s a bicycle in the background, or a ruined baseball beside you).
But they’re not enough to keep Chibi Robo Zip Lash from being more than what it is: an adequate platformer with occasional good ideas.
I had fun with Chibi Robo: Zip Lash. But I also had frequent headaches, trying to wrap my head around game design decisions that only detracted from the experience. Platformers rarely make for good grinding, and that’s the only real way to unlock all the costumes (or even play the elusive seventh world). It’s filled with collectibles, and supports all amiibo (though only the Chibi Robo amiibo actually does anything compelling), but you’ll doubtfully want to replay the sluggish stages through more than once or twice. If you’re starved for a 3DS platformer, you could certainly do worse. But you could also do much, much better.
If you’ve ever wondered what makes Chibi Robo the character that he is, try and get your hands on the Gamecube title instead, which was filled with a greater sense of identity and adventure, and featured a significantly larger roster of interesting characters with which to aide and interact.