Unlike Hey! Pikmin where I had played previous titles in the series beforehand, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash is my introduction to the Chibi-Robo franchise. Both this game and Hey! Pikmin, to my understanding, took a game traditionally set in more open 3D environments and set it instead in a side-scrolling platformer, but while Hey! Pikmin struggled to make its elements compelling in the new format, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash seems to have taken to it a bit more fluidly. While I cannot say if this game is completely faithful or an utter betrayal to the series, I can at least say that on its own, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash puts a good foot forward for the franchise.
Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash puts you in the tiny metal feet of Chibi-Robo, a four inch tall cleaning robot who is called upon to tackle an unusually large crisis. Aliens have been pilfering resources from Earth and Chibi-Robo’s companion Telly feels like you’re the one who can stop them. One of the first cute touches with the game involves the worlds you’ll be visiting in your quest to stop the aliens, the game theming them around real world countries and continents. The game does mix the realistic with the fantastical, but having areas based on the cities of North America, the tropical islands of the Caribbean, and the deserts of North Africa is better and more interesting contextualization than throwing us in generic sand or factory worlds. Unfortunately, while you can beat the game and face the final boss just through regular play, the final world is locked behind amiibo ownership. Not only do you need an amiibo to unlock even the chance of getting to the seventh world, but since early 3DS systems don’t have amiibo reading built in, that’s another monetary hurdle to what feels like something that should have been standard or at least unlockable through regular play. The game doesn’t feel empty without the seventh world thankfully, but the knowledge it exists can’t help but hang over your head unless you want to put in the investment for that final bit of content.
When it comes to exploring these worlds, Chibi-Robo follows the traditional side-scrolling platformer formula of running, jumping, and bashing easy enemies, but it introduces a new mechanic that pushes it into new territory by way of the robot’s cord. Using Chibi-Robo’s cord like a whip is not only his primary means of attack, but one of his most important tools for navigation and item collection, the player given two versions to work with. The standard whip lash is useful for quick application, the game putting many enemies and obstacles that require just a quick slap from the cord to overcome. The zip lash is the more interesting tool, a charged up launch of the cord that can ricochet off walls and break through multiple objects and stronger blocks. Getting around the environment involves many instances of lining up proper lashes so you can snag grapple points and climb to new areas, with many hidden items requiring you to figure out the best way to bounce the cord around corners and hindrances. Building up the length of your cord is also important, as you start every level with a very short cord but can grow it by finding little orbs that extend its length. The whip and zip lash are the real focus of the game, and while the game does throw fire and ice power ups at you a few times, the cord will be how almost everything in the game is dealt with and it makes for more interesting levels to explore because of it. At first things are fairly straightforward, but soon you’ll be swinging from your cord like a vine, pulling off time-sensitive lashes, and facing moments that require more careful angling of your zip lash. The game even throws in some levels where you are tethered to or riding an object, Chibi-Robo taking to the air, racing across water, or skateboarding through levels that are more treacherous than usual and will likely kill even the best of players. The balloon stages’ controls are a bit unusual, but for the most part these break up the gameplay and offer some of the toughest challenges in regards to both completion and collecting all the goodies scattered through the levels. Even the regular levels will usually carry something that sets them apart, ensuring that you’re always treading new ground and facing new obstacles as you progress.
Chibi-Robo even does something different with its health system when compared to regular platformers. Every level starts you off with a full battery, the charge gradually weakening as you go through the level, serving almost as a very generous timer. However, if you get hurt, you lose a chunk of your charge, and while there are plenty of batteries in levels to find and outlets to get a quick refill from, if you do die, your revival is contingent not on extra lives but on a greater power bank you build up over time. Levels contain little pieces of litter you can collect to burn up in your generator, adding to the amount of charge you can pull from it, but there’s usually enough that you’ll never be found wanting when it comes to a revival or refill. In fact, this game has so many safety nets in place for younger players that it can be a bit off-putting. Players are able to accrue an absurd amount of money that has very little use outside of buying power-ups that will save you from death. Money can also be used to skip a level if the game detects you’ve died on it too many times, but luckily these are completely optional for a player who wants a bit more challenge from the game. That’s not to say the game ever gets extremely challenging, but it is similar to Kirby games in that the basic gameplay is accessible but there is optional content in place for people who want more from the experience.
Besides the litter, levels contain three types of collectibles that will require you to pay attention to level geometry and complete small challenges to collect. The big coins are the most straight-forward, each stage having three of them that usually just require you noticing where they are hidden or grabbing them before the opportunity passes. Chibi-Tots are a bit more difficult, the little robot babies running about and the player has to carefully corral them since the whip lash will immediately destroy them. The most interesting collectibles though I find are the snacks. Real world treats are hidden in each level behind bonus games or the toughest instances of cord use. The treats all are based on real brands, and if you turn them in to one of the traveling toys, they will tell you about the brand’s history. I’m a sucker for trivia like this and it made the snacks the most interesting collectible to find, but there was an over-representation of Japanese treats amidst the otherwise global scope of treat brands. I realize this is likely because the Japanese company making this game has more affection for these confections and can work out their presence in the game more easily, but near the end of the game it just piles on Japanese treats rather than spacing them between the more global reach featured near the start. Once a world is completed a new type of collectible is added, little lost alien children popping up in stages if you enter the right codes. This was once tied to the now dead Miiverse mode, but now you just enter the codes you find on a website and help escort the baby aliens to a safe spot for delivery, earning yourself a costume for your troubles.
The variety of collectibles on offer give the game a pretty good reason to play outside of just finishing the story, but there are a few roadblocks to feeding your collecting hunger. When you first enter a world, you cannot replay a level after beating it as entering levels is restricted by a ridiculous system known as the destination wheel. At the end of each level are three UFOs, and depending on which one you hit, you can get up to three spins on this wheel. The wheel will determine how many spaces you move on the world map, allowing you to skip levels… but you will still need to go back and complete them to finish the world. Even worse, if you spin the wheel and end up landing on a stage you completed already, you HAVE to replay it, the game only giving the small mercy of letting you skip cutscenes in that stage. It is easy to rig the wheel in your favor though by buying spots on it, and once you unlock the boss level it is accessible through a wheel that only leads to the boss, but this feature feels unnecessary, wastes time, and seems more like something that should have been optional and actually allowed you to skip stages rather than putting them off until later. The bosses are simple challenges for your whip and zip lashes at least, making for decent if unimpressive battles. Once the boss of a world is beaten though, the levels all open up to play at your leisure, I just don’t see why this wheel was a feature if it had no purpose outside impeding progress.
THE VERDICT: Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash feels like it could have made a bigger splash if it had a few factors going for it. The Chibi-Robo brand has never been too huge and the gameplay presented is a bit simple for a modern game, but I feel if it had been released back in the early days of gaming it would have been better regarded. Instead, the fine platforming and fun use of the cord as a whip and grappling hook seem a bit quaint, but that doesn’t mean the game isn’t enjoyable. Working out the right trajectory for your lashes and digging up secrets makes Zip Lash more than a lazy transition of a series into a 2D platformer.
And so, I give Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash for the Nintendo 3DS…
A GOOD rating. The biggest hurdle to Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash is that it is unassuming. It’s a solid platformer with a good gimmick to it, but that doesn’t exactly wow gamers looking for a new game to play. The many concessions made to make it accessible to kids and the unnecessary rigmarole of the destination wheel can turn off potential players, but this charming little journey still has enough going on in it that you won’t get bored. Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash keeps introducing new hazards and challenges but never dwells too much on any one idea, only reintegrating assets when it has something new to do with them. Each level ends up with a distinct feeling because of this, and the collectibles ensure you’ll have a reason to revisit them.
Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash is nothing earth-shattering, but this game doesn’t want to set the world on fire. It’s a charming little romp with an interesting core mechanic and stages that compliment it well despite the odd barriers of the destination wheel and amiibo functionality. I can at least say it made a Chibi-Robo fan out of me, even if it is a departure from the series’s usual format.