The deliciously charming and adorable Chibi-Robo brings his electric moves to the 3DS in a new 2D platformer. But while his shiny exterior is as sweet as those snacks, Chibi’s adventure needs more than a lick of polish to brighten its dull gameplay.
As the fifth instalment in the Chibi-Robo! franchise, and developed by Skip alongside Vanpool, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash exudes the same cutesy appeal seen in its previous titles. Designed as a 2D action platformer, Chibi must save his world from a group of mischievous aliens and bring back peace to the ecosystem. But in order to do so, the 10-centimeter silver robot must traverse six areas across the world, battling metallic enemies with his handy zip lash and plug.
On the surface, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash appears as nothing more than a quick and easy game to pass the time on your lunch hour at work. And for the most part, Zip Lash is exactly that. But it does boast some interesting level designs and fairly tricky challenges, giving fans of the franchise, beginners and younger players a neatly balanced game. With six levels to each world; spanning from the cool Oceania, the vast plains of North Africa, the exotic Caribbean, historical Europe, modern North America and the icy South Pole, there is plenty to unearth and discover. And though the game can be completed in less than a dozen hours, finding Zip Lash’s collectables – such as the many Japanese snacks found in each level – will take much more dedication.
Playing as the adorable Chibi, players can use two different types of moves with his wired plug to travel up, down and across each level. By using the whip lash you’ll be able to latch onto orange pads a short distance away, though by collecting blue numbered balls you’ll be able to extend Chibi’s zip lash and target orange or blue pads at a much bigger distance. Of course, there are multiple enemies in each level ready to electrify, pummel and crush Chibi, which means you’ll have to outsmart them by using your zip lash as a weapon.
By moving the circle pad or the D-pad for precision, you can target moving enemies and coloured pads with Chibi’s wire, allowing his agile nature a chance to shine. While using the zip lash is fun, it can be awkward and frustrating, particularly when running from a large enemy or rising lava. As the circle pad is overly sensitive it can be difficult to aim, but using the slow-as-a-tortoise D-pad is no help either and leaves players with clunky, lethargic controls that are detrimental to gameplay.
Throughout the game’s 36 levels, Chibi will find different types of trash ranging from broken cups to tired tennis balls from the real world. Collecting these items means Chibi can pop them into his spaceship’s generator, having compacted them Wall-E style, and will allow him to produce watts to fuel his adventures. If Chibi runs out of watts during a level, it’s game over. However, there are easily accessible upgrades that can be used, such as the battery upgrade after Chibi’s 999 watts deplete, or a boost upgrade saving him from pitfalls. Great for younger and less experienced players, they are handy to have when facing the game’s bosses or more difficult levels.
While some of the game’s best levels feature in World 4, such as Bomball Ruins which gives a neat 3D perspective on the game’s standard 2D format, most feel far too repetitive. The monotonous jump, aim, defeat enemies, and repeat is thankfully broken up by Chibi-Robo ride levels. As such, players will have the chance to crest the waves on Chibi’s wakeboard, steer a balloon, a submarine and a skateboard.
Though it’s a great change of pace for Zip Lash, the levels are again let down by unpolished controls. Easily forgettable tutorial sections by Chibi’s sidekick the Telly, which only pop up when you fail a mission, coupled with terribly clunky and heavy movements by the submarine and balloon are not just painful to watch, they are excruciating to play. The submarine is even forced on players during a boss fight. Typically, I’d rather watch paint dry, it’s quicker and arguably less painful.
Most of Zip Lash’s boss fights, though, are great to play and are a big boost for the game’s challenge. Appearing at the end of each world, Chibi fans can face off with a golden African snake or Count Dracula and, coupled with superb music to keep battles full of energy and life, they are enjoyable to play.
Unlike most regular 2D platformers, Zip Lash’s level selection isn’t linear but is determined by a numbered spin wheel. Giving you the freedom to choose which level you want is fantastic, however its restrictive nature means you’ll likely play levels repeatedly if you land on the wrong number, and there’s no option to skip them. You can purchase numbered panels from one to five in the shop with moolah – the in-game currency found throughout the six areas – and completely nullify the spin wheel, leaving it as little more than a bonkers, shoehorned feature.
Though if you do happen to play a level again, you’ll get an extra chance to find its collectables, such as the super cute chibi-tots, as well as help rescue a lost alien to gain neat outfits for Chibi. Though it’s an additional feature to the game, it’s purely aesthetic and – sadly – irrelevant to gameplay. Luckily, once players clear a world, the numbered spin wheel disappears and you can freely select levels as and when you wish.
Similar to the robot’s wire, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash falls considerably short of its target. Lacking depth to its story, inane difficulty spikes due to the awkward controls in several stages and oddly shoehorned features, you’ll likely find frustration rather than fun. If it wasn’t for Chibi’s hilarious bust-a-moves and cute animations, players would most likely zip-lash straight past.
5 / 10