Nintendo’s got an impressive stable of intellectual properties that seems to grow every year – it seems like only yesterday we saw the release of Splatoon, a popular title that’s bound to see some sequels in the future. Not all of those IPs took off, though. Cubivore, for instance, just kind of faded off into the ether, to the point where copies of the game are valued by collectors. Likewise, Chibi-Robo was never a smash hit, but he’s seen a couple of games and now has another chance to make his mark on the 3DS with Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash.
Aliens are attacking and Chibi-Robo’s the only one who can stop them! Yes, Chibi-Robo, who’s basically maybe one design revision away from a Roomba, the same Chibi-Robo whose previous games were largely about picking up trash and doing chores, is our savior this time around. He’s not the hero we need, but he’s the hero we deserve, I suppose, so it’s up to Chibi-Robo to smack the Gyorians back to their home dimension. It’s also up to Chibi-Robo to sell you delicious treats, but we’ll get to that.
Chibi-Robo’s not a character known for his combat prowess, but regardless he’s got a few means of dealing with the alien menace. These revolve around smacking aliens around with his power cable – they don’t quite match the Earth Defense Force titles when it comes to extraterrestrial slaughter but they work regardless. First you’ve got the Whip Lash, a basic whip attack that can be “held” in midair to provide a bit more jump distance by hovering. More importantly, you’ve got the titular Zip Lash, a charged whip attack that blasts through multiple enemies and ricochets off walls, the latter playing a key role in navigating through most stages.
Both of these are fairly short-ranged to start, but can be lengthened by collecting orbs found throughout each level – your lash length is separate for the Whip and Zip Lashes and also resets on a per-level basis, so you’ll need to take it from the top in each new stage. Chibi-Robo’s movements are very deliberate, including split-second pauses to allow you to refine your aim after whipping, and the game ends up feeling a bit like Castlevania.
Naturally, whipping foes isn’t all you can do with that plug. There are plenty of destructible objects that need a good whippin’, for instance, and they’ll often reward you with orbs and coins. Many walls feature orange panels that can be grappled with either whip attack, allowing you to swing your way up – certain ceilings are even covered with these panels, allowing you to perform some Bionic Commando-styled swinging. There are also whippable portals that allow you to enter bonus stages when you nail them with the Zip Lash, allowing you to jump through metaphorical hoops in search of collectibles.
Other power-ups are available as well, like plugs that engulf Chibi-Robo in enemy-torching flames, and you can also use the included Chibi-Robo Amiibo to pump yourself up with special attacks and a super mode. The Amiibo’s a real winner, by the way – it’s adorable. I’d never suggest buying a game just for a really cute Amiibo, but if you’re collecting them…
Said collectibles are the real focus of Chibi-Robo Zip Lash and there’s a ton of different types. You’ve got your standard coins, big coins, and energy-generating trash, then you’ve got your less standard Chibi-Tots, tiny robots that you’ll need to chase around and capture (carefully, since your whip can destroy them!). Running around grabbing stuff is the name of the game, causing it to feel a bit like the later Donkey Kong Country titles in some ways.
There are also snacks to find and collect, which make for the game’s most surreal moments as they’re all honest-to-God real licensed snacks. You’ll find a floating treasure chest, whip it open and inside will be a Tootsie Pop. Later, you’ll find a talking plane, give him the Tootsie Pop and he’ll go on for a few pages about the wonders of Tootsie Pops, then all of that is saved in a database so you can go back and read about how awesome Tootsie Pops are. I’d be aggravated with the blatant and bizarre in-game advertising if I wasn’t suddenly hungry for a Tootsie Pop. Seriously, I can’t imagine who vetted this idea or what kind of money changed hands to make it happen, but I can’t even get properly upset about it because it’s so freaking weird.
You’ll go through stages whipping and collecting in typical side-scroller fashion. Between stages you’ll spin a wheel to determine how many spaces you’ll go next; this is a bit of a bizarre design decision, as landing on a stage you’ve already finished means you’ve got to finish it again, but you can spend coins collected in each level to rig the wheel and ensure you don’t usually have to worry about it. If you do mess it up, well, watch out – you’ll have to finish the stage you landed on, spin the wheel again and hope you don’t land on another stage you already finish so you’re forced to redo that one as well. Again, I’m not sure who vetted that one, but c’est la vie.
After finishing all the stages in an area you’ll battle the area’s boss, typically a giant robot of some sort, and upon winning you’re given carte blanche to revisit the area’s stages whenever you’d like to clean up on whatever collectibles you’ve missed.
It’s not the most amazing game in the world and it makes some very odd decisions regarding advertising and level selection, but despite its quirks Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash is a well-made platformer of the sort we’d expect from Nintendo. The included Amiibo makes this an attractive purchase for collectors and Chibi-Robo fans. If you’re hurting for some classic platforming action, then Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash is worth a look. Maybe you could also pick up some Tootsie Pops while you’re at the store.