If there’s one developer who knows how to make a solid 2D platformer, it’s Nintendo. They’ve been churning out classic hop-and-bop titles for the last 30 years, and there is no end in sight. The Chibi-Robo series, known for its odd household chore adventures, has never been one of these titles.
This is why the announcement of Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, a platforming-focused game for the 3DS, was a bit of a strange move. Series producer Kensukre Tanabe recently stated that the change in gameplay was due to the lack of sales from previous Chibi-Robo titles. He went on to explain that Zip Lash may be the miniature robot’s last chance to shine.
But does he shine? I mean he is made of metal...
Solid Whip-Based Platforming
Much like Devo’s 1980 new wave hit, Chibi-Robo’s newest outing is all about whipping it good. That’s kind of a give away with a title like Whip Lash, right?
Using his tail-like cord and plug Chibi can decimate enemies, hover like a helicopter, collect items and pull himself to new heights. It’s a very well implemented mechanic, and the creators are constantly finding new ways to enhance gameplay and exploration with Chibi’s whipping abilities in mind. In fact, there are actually two different kind of whips, the standard cord and the electrically-charged zip lash. The zip lash can usually go further and is much more powerful when it comes to dealing damage.
As you progress through a stage you’ll collect boost-balls that can increase your cord length (Insert inappropriate joke here). The longer your cord, the more places you can reach and the more obstacles you can destroy at a time. Both important aspects of your journey. The camera always has a tight focus on Chibi as he scampers along and it’s only when he aims his plug towards the ceiling or seemingly bottomless pits that one can spot hidden rooms and collectables.
The main campaign for Zip Lash consists of six worlds, each with six stages. Each world is based on a different real world location, ranging from industrial America to sunny Oceania and beyond. The stages within these worlds usually follow a specific theme or introduce a new element to the gameplay. Each location is filled with little nods towards the culture it represents, and adds appropriate challenges as the game ramps up for the final showdown.
Platforming fanatics can breath a sigh of relief, Zip Lash is a worthy and satisfying addition to the genre. It can verge on frustrating at times, especially when you’re going out of your way to collect all the hidden items, but it’s nothing a little trial and error can’t solve.
Collect All the Things!
As someone who thoroughly enjoys the thrill of collecting (both in real life and in games) I was overjoyed to see all the different collectibles Zip Lash had to offer. And there are a ton.
The most common being moolah and boost-balls. Moolah is just a cute word for the currency found in-game and it can be used to purchase helpful items, destination wheel panels (more on that later) and figures from Chibi’s personal capsule machine. There are large coins in each stage that are each worth 100 moolah and they are usually located just out of reach or hidden in spots you wouldn’t expect. Boost-balls, as mentioned above, are used to lengthen Chibi’s cord, so he can reach new platforms and bust up more baddies in a single go. They are important to progressing, but you’ll usually find your self with more than enough to go around.
On top of those two main collectibles you’ll find *deep breath* treasure chests, trash for your generator, baby aliens to return home, candy for your friends, costumes for Chibi to try on, life meters, and Chibi Tots to rescue. There are three Chibi Tots in each stage and I can’t help but think of South Park’s head-flapping Canadians whenever I see one run flailing away from me. Why would you run from someone rescuing you? I guess they’re not my pal, guy.
Music and Telly Dialogue
If I had to compare Zip Lash to any other series in terms of audio it would have to be Kirby. The tunes are upbeat and play off the stage themes in a way that adds to the overall environment. There’s a lot of wonderful tracks and new additions spring forth in every new world. You’re going to want to keep the volume turned up for this adventure.
On as side note: Chibi’s sidekick Telly plays a key role as a framing device for the game’s story and ongoing unlockables. He must, as Chibi himself cannot talk. He has no mouth you see. The sound of Telly’s incoherent ramblings are hilarious. It’s better than Banjo-Kazooie. It’s Better than Animal Crossing. It’s the goofiest thing I’ve ever heard. I would turn up the volume every time Telly popped on screen, just so my wife and I could laugh at his garbled musings.
Zip Lash does a wonderful job of including amiibo in a way that feels helpful and rewarding, but not necessary. The Chibi-Robo amiibo (which comes in the Zip Lash bundle seen above) can be used to unlock his capsule machine while aboard his spaceship. Players can also log their stage scores periodically to level up the amiibo itself. Leveling up has two advantages - it gives players more chances to turn into the super-powered “gold Chibi-Robo” everyday and unlocks new sets of figurines for the capsule machine.
Regular amiibo, and they pretty much all work, give Chibi a boost of 50 moolah and many unlock special figures for the capsule machine as well. Each one portrays Chibi in the iconic pose of that character. I haven’t won many (they’re usually rare), but they’re decidedly cute.
Space Hunter Drake Redcrest
Of all the toys that Chibi interacts with in Zip Lash, the only one who made any impression on me was action figure Drake Redcrest. This guy is like the love child of Samus Aran and Captain Falcon mixed with the personality of Buzz Lightyear and the fashion of Gatchaman. He’s obsessed with posing and making up new crime fighting techniques, which he hilariously names after the real-world snacks you supply him with throughout your adventures.
His dialogue is consistently over the top in all the best ways. He’s a goofball with a heart of gold and muscles of justice. With a few Chibi-Robo titles under his utility belt I think it’s about time Nintendo gave him his own game.
It’s not exactly the most compelling background story in the history of gaming, but Zip Lash makes due with its silly plot as well as it can. The world has been invaded by tiny aliens who are stealing all of Earth’s valuable resources for themselves. Doing god knows what with them. And of course it’s up to
Earth’s mightiest heroes a small cleaning robot to save the world from a natural resources drought that could destroy all of humanity as we know it.
See? It’s silly. The aliens themselves can be found floating about in the background of every stages, but strangely don’t show up in most of the levels as actual enemies. I guess when you’re good at stealing mass amounts fossil fuels, but your defense is literally made of wind-up toys you just stick to the stealing.
Zip Lash is a game with a lot of design ideas. It doesn’t really settle on any for more than a few stages, with the obvious exception of whip-based action, and this makes for a somewhat uneven difficulty curve. Once you have the hang of a new concept you’re thrown headlong into another, making the whole game a bit of learning experience. This can be aggravating at times, because it can lead to some quick deaths and moments of “what do they want me to do?!” It’s very easy to miss out on collectables and hidden rooms the first time through, due to the fact that you’re simply trying to survive.
That being said, the game does give players the option of buying extra batteries to replenish Chibi’s slowly draining health and a rocket pack to save him from sudden falls. Both are an enormous help, but one has to remember to purchase them as they diminish and the more hardcore platformer fans will likely want to beat the stages on pure skill alone.
When it comes to power-ups it doesn’t get more basic than fire and ice. They’re the commonplace upgrades for a reason, they work well and add various new mechanics to the gameplay. This is true for Zip Lash. I found myself having the most fun when Chibi plugged into the ridiculous fire and ice outlets (why would you build those?), covering him in a glorious blaze of fire or an icy frost. The fact that they work so well is part of the issue, because each only shows up a few times in the games 36 stages. It’s a staggeringly low amount for how well they work within the confines of the gameplay.
It’s my hope that the next Chibi-Robo title, if there is one, is focused on these type of power-ups, as they are certainly one of the game’s biggest highlights.
Real Snacks, Real Advertising
The Chibi-Robo series is no stranger to using actual household items to make connections to the real world. Chibi’s last 3DS title, Photo Finder, had players taking pictures of household items such as batteries and beverages, with companies such as Duracell and Barq’s Root Beer making appearances. Zip Lash carries on this tradition with Chibi collecting various candies from around the world and delivering them to his toy friends.
It’s unsurprisingly surreal to see realistic candy packaging show up in a game about a cleaning robot taking down invading aliens, but it’s also a nice way to give the game a sense of global adventure. The candies you discover come from various different countries and backgrounds. The toys you hand them over to even give you a brief overview of how the candy was originally invented and eaten. Then they go a little too far out of their way to describe how great that particular candy is and how its design or flavor makes it worth trying.
It’s a little too obvious that Nintendo is using Zip Lash as a form of advertisement, but at the same time it makes me smile when I open a treasure chest to find a box of DOTS or a Charm’s Blow Pop.
Most Vehicle Stages
From the various trailers Nintendo has released of Chibi-Robo in action, the most appealing aspects have arguably been his new modes of transportation. Just look at this skateboard.
Unfortunately, vehicle levels are more or less the most aggravating stages in each world. Sometimes they go well enough, and it’s usually the water skiing or skateboarding outing that bring the most excitement, but they all share a common flaw. They have no checkpoints. So it doesn’t matter if you made it through 90% of the level dodging bad guys, hitting wicked ramps and collecting massive amounts of boost-balls, you’re going to start from the beginning if you bite the dust.
To be fair most vehicle stages are shorter, and move at a quicker pace, but it’s frustrating none the less. Though not as frustrating as many of the vehicle controls and speed. Chibi’s miniature submarine and balloon flight machines both move at the speed of elderly turtles, crawling through the water and sky toward even slower moving enemies. Their controls are so slow to react that you’ll wonder if you’re even pressing the right buttons. It seems like something that could have been easily fixed, but... it wasn’t. And here we are.
The Destination Wheel
Oh destination wheel, you are a terrible idea on so many levels. You are a spinning blur of frustration and I hate you.
Let me break down what makes the destination wheel so infuriating.
At the end of every stage Chibi has the chance to hit one of three UFOs with his plug, each representing a certain amount of spins on the destination wheel. The wheel is presented to players after each stage and players must spin it to see what stage they will advance to next. At first players may think, “Oh, so you can just skip over levels and play through the game quickly. Maybe you can come back to those you skipped on your own time.” Wrong.
You have to play through every stage of a world to unlock that world’s boss, so if you skip over a stage you’ll eventually have to spin the destination wheel and land on it. But if you happen to land on a level you’ve already completed YOU HAVE TO PLAY IT AGAIN. The game forces you to do so. Then you’ll spin again and pray to the mighty wheel gods you don’t land on another stage you’ve already conquered. It makes no sense from a player’s perspective, as all it adds to the game is unneeded and unenjoyable stress.
Granted, you can buy panels for the wheel to pad your chances of landing on the number you desire, but that’s just adding tedium to stupidity. Why the creators couldn’t let players move forward in a linear fashion or simply pick the levels they wanted to complete in each world is beyond me. It is far and away the worst part of the game and is unfortunately present for its entirely.
It should be noted that after you complete all the stages of a world (and defeat the world boss) you can pick whatever stage you’d like to play. It’s just too bad this wasn’t the case to begin with.
[REMOVED AT REQUEST OF NINTENDO]
Ok, Nintendo didn’t really ask me to take this part down, but their embargo notes did specify that I wasn’t allowed to talk about the game’s final battle or any of the epilogue. So, I can’t go into detail here, but let’s just say a certain part of the game’s finale is another step in the wrong direction for a game that seems to force people into replaying stages.
I’ll update this section when I can say more.
While Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash does a great job of delivering some creative level design and clever whip-related obstacles, it has some serious issues with pace. The aspects that work are excellent, but the game tries to do so much that many times the best parts are short lived.
If you have a passion for platforming, especially replaying levels to find all the hidden goodies, then Zip Lash is for you. If the thought of having to discover dozens of additional items or spinning for new stage locations sounds maddening then you best stay away.
Does Chibi-Robo shine in his newest adventure? Mostly. Though it’s obvious he could have used a little more polish.
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