Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash

Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash[a] is a Nintendo 3DS game co-developed by Skip Ltd. and Vanpool and published by Nintendo. It was released in Japan and North America in October 2015 and in Europe the following November. It is the fifth and most recent game in the Chibi-Robo! series, and the second Chibi-Robo! game on the 3DS after Chibi-Robo! Photo Finder (2014). Zip Lash has you play as the robot Chibi-Robo, tasked with roaming the world and defending its natural resources from a fleet of invading aliens.

Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash
A 3D render of a small robot running along the ground while throwing a power cord in front of itself that ricochets between the image's border and the game's logo
Game icon
Developer(s)
Publisher(s)Nintendo
Director(s)
  • Jun Tsuda
  • Keita Eto
Producer(s)
Designer(s)
  • Yuki Watanabe
  • Takamasa Saitou
Programmer(s)Hironori Ahiko
Artist(s)Akira Katsuta
Composer(s)
  • Hirofumi Taniguchi
  • Kiyoshi Hazemoto
  • Soshiro Hokkai
SeriesChibi-Robo!
Platform(s)Nintendo 3DS
Release
  • JP: October 8, 2015
  • NA: October 9, 2015
  • EU: November 6, 2015
Genre(s)Sidescrolling platformer
Mode(s)Single player

Unlike previous installments in the Chibi-Robo! series, which utilises elements from the adventure genre, Zip Lash is a 2D side-scrolling platformer. Chibi-Robo is equipped with a cord and plug that he can use to attack enemies and get to hard-to-reach places. Throughout the levels, the player can find a number of collectibles in the form of big coins, Chibi-Tots, and snacks based on real-world brands. An amiibo was also produced alongside the game that can assist the player in-game, such as giving Chibi-Robo upgrades to his abilities.

The decision to shift genres was taken in the hopes of expanding the franchise's fanbase in the west, specifically in the US, as well as to assist mechanics developed for the game. The character of Chibi-Robo was chosen by developers to create a game that suited him well as to be commercially successful. The snack collectibles were implemented into the game to give scale compared to Chibi-Robo, as well as be recognizable to the player. Whilst wanting to develop the character more for future games, developers feared that this could be the last chance for the series.

Zip Lash was a commercial failure and received mixed reviews from critics with praise for the visuals, sound, and overall charm but criticism for its level design, controls, and gameplay mechanics, with many calling the game unoriginal and uninspired. Zip Lash is currently the most recent game in the series and is believed to be the last, as Skip Ltd.'s dormancy has prompted speculation of its closure.

Gameplay

 
Chibi-Robo in the first level of the first world in the game, Oceania, preparing to launch his whip-lash at an enemy in front of him, by swinging it in circles.

Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash deviates from the first three games in series by being a sidescrolling platformer instead of an adventure platformer. The player takes control of the robot Chibi-Robo, with the goal of reaching the end of the level, signified by a UFO.[1]: 30  To help reach the goal, Chibi-Robo possesses a power cord that serves a variety of functions. One of the main functions is the Whip Lash; when using the cord he swings the plug in front of him at a short-range, which can be used to grab surfaces, items or attack enemies.[2] By attaching the plug to orange surfaces on the walls or ceilings, Chibi can swing or grapple with his cord to reach out of reach places.[3] In addition, the Whip Lash can be performed in the air, whereby holding the action can cause the player to hover briefly. The other main function of the cord is the Zip Lash, in which Chibi-Robo charges up and then releases the cord at a great length and ricochet of walls,[4] used for puzzle solving and reaching high-up places out of reach of the player.[5][6] In every level, the player can collect two types of orbs known as Boost-Balls. Boost-Balls, found in either red or blue, that extend the cord's length; the red and blue orbs extend the Whip Lash and Zip Lash respectively. The length of the cord resets once the player completes the level. One of Chibi-Robo's main drawbacks is his dependence on watts, a type of power supply. Besides the plug, Chibi-Robo can also perform a roll to allow him to travel through narrow passages. Whilst playing levels, Chibi-Robo's battery life depletes, which causes the player to restart the level if it reaches 0.[7] The player is required to recharge his battery with plug sockets that are scattered around the levels.[8]

Abilities

In addition to the standard plug sockets, certain levels feature sockets that gives Chibi-Robo elemental abilities. The red sockets allow Chibi-Robo to melt obstacles and enemies with fire. The blue sockets give him the ability to freeze other enemies and turn water into ice.[9] Other levels grant Chibi-Robo access to vehicles that the player can control through a large automated section of levels, such as a wakeboard,[7] a skateboard or a submarine.[10][11] Two items can be bought, either in the Chibi-House or in vending machines found within the levels, to help Chibi-Robo when in trouble; a Spare Battery that refills the player's battery and an Emergency Rocket that can save the player from a bottomless pit. These items are automatically activated. The Chibi-Robo amiibo figure can be used within any given level that grants the player "Super Chibi-Robo", a powered up version of Chibi-Robo that has an increased battery life and max power cord length.[10][12]

Setting and collectables

Zip Lash has the player traverse through seven worlds represented as Oceania, North Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, North America, the South Pole, and Asia. Each world, excluding Asia, contain six levels and a boss battle. The levels are displayed in a ring on a 2D map which the player can navigate between them via Chibi-Robo's spaceship called the Chibi-House, acting as the game's hub world. The Chibi-House can also allow players to purchase items that can be in levels to help the player. On top of providing navigation, the Chibi-House can be used to increase Chibi-Robo's watts supply.[13] By collecting trash that appears throughout levels and bringing them back to the Chibi-House, the player can convert the trash into watts which can power plug sockets in levels. The Chibi-Robo amiibo can be used in the Chibi-House as well which allows the player to unlock a toy capsule machine. The player can spend in-game currency to purchase collectable figurines.[14]

At the end of each level, the player is tasked with hitting one of three UFOs, colored bronze, silver, and gold. The color of the UFO determines how many chances the player gets at spinning the "Destination Wheel", which is the game's method of level progression. The player is required to spin a roulette wheel to see which stage the player can go to next. Players can purchase new tiles with coins found within the level to replace some of the ones on the wheel so that the player can rig the wheel to be more or fully favorable.[5] Once the player completes all six side-scrolling levels, the world's boss battle opens up, and the wheel instead determines the difficulty of the boss.[15]

Along with Moolah, small gold coins acting as the in-game currency, levels contain three forms of collectibles: Chibi-Tots, small versions of Chibi-Robo that try to avoid the player; Big Coins, large versions of Moolah; and snacks, which resemble real-world, international brands, such as Utz Chips, Pocky, and Mentos.[5][16] Snacks can be traded in for costumes whenever the player interacts with a toy, with one toy appearing in each world.[17] Other than the main three collectibles, blue aliens can appear within completed levels that require the player to take them back to their UFO. If successful, the alien rewards the player with a Miiverse code for a costume for Chibi-Robo to wear.[3][18]

Plot

Chibi-Robo is cleaning the exterior of a space station when his companion Telly reminds him to take a break. During the break, Chibi-Robo watches television and discovers that a lot of the natural resources on Earth have vanished, disappearing because of invading aliens. The pair are suddenly disturbed by a cluster of aliens, known as the Gyorians, who are making their way toward Earth. As such, they both set out in the "Chibi House" to combat the alien invasion.[1]: 12  During the adventure, Chibi-Robo travels to various locations across the Earth to reclaim the stolen natural resources and defeat the alien robots that guard their specific location.

The two eventually head to Antarctica where the Aliens' Mothership is located. Chibi-Robo promptly destroys the Mothership, however, a large glowing ball escapes the wreckage and heads towards a metropolitan city in Asia. The ball then transforms into a large monster named "The Mega-Mech Menace" and starts to wreak havoc. To combat the monster, Telly and Chibi construct a giant named "Giga Chibi-Robo"; the two giants battle each other until Chibi-Robo deactivates the monster and destroys it, prompting both Chibi and Telly to head back to the station.[19]

Development

"To be honest, this might be the last chance for us. I’ve continually thought about ways to build this into mainstream success, we’ve challenged ourselves in assorted ways along those lines, but I can’t say that we’ve found the answer yet".

Producer Kensuke Tanabe, 2015 The Verge interview[20]

Being the fifth game in the series, Zip Lash was developed by Skip Ltd., with help from Vanpool, Inc.[21] Series producers Kensuke Tanabe and Hiroshi Suzuki, alongside series newcomer Taro Kudo worked to produce Zip Lash, as well as Risa Tabata who acted as assistant producer.[20][22][23] Keita Eto, representing Skip Ltd., and Jun Tsuda, representing Vanpool, served as the game's directors.[24] Tsuda had previously worked with Tanabe on Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Dillon's Rolling Western and its sequel.[23][25] Lead designers of the game include Yuki Watanabe and Shingo Kabaya,[26] artist Akira Katsuta,[27] and programmer Hironori Ahiko.[28] The game was composed by Hirofumi Taniguchi, Kiyoshi Hazemoto and Soshiro Hokkai.[29]

Following the inability to garner a wider audience with previous Chibi-Robo! games, developers were tasked with making a new game that could branch out and make the series more mainstream, specifically within the US.[20][30] In discussions with Skip Ltd., developers were given the task to focus on the action type of gameplay, suggesting looking into "getting his cord and moving it over his head". The developers did not want the gameplay to revolve around jumping as that of the Super Mario series does and instead opted to focus on the cord and plug aspect of Chibi-Robo's design.[23] To appeal to a wider audience, the decision to switch from 3D to 2D gameplay was done to match the "whip and swing" mechanic suggested by Skip, with Tabata stating in an interview with USGamer that 3D gameplay would be more complex and that they wanted the gameplay to be accessible to younger audiences.[31] Additionally, developers did not want to make to make levels too difficult for players, whilst also adding plenty of unique gameplay elements in each levels. In the same interview, Tabata stated that the "whip and swing" mechanic was developed around what the mechanic could do for the player, which lead to the idea of ricocheting the cord off of things.[31] Speaking with Nintendo World Report at E3 2015, Tanabe stated that they used other platforming games such as the Donkey Kong series as reference for judging terrain and level difficulty. Furthermore, Tabata asserted that Donkey Kong Country Returns and Tropical Freeze were used specifically to influence camera movement with Zip Lash's levels.[23]

 
Kensuke Tanabe, producer of the Chibi-Robo! series since its creation.

Both Tanabe and Tabata have expressed interest in making new games for the Chibi-Robo! series, with Tabata hoping to return to the more adventure type gameplay the previous games used.[31][32] However, in an interview with The Verge, Tanabe revealed that if the game did not do well, it would be the last entry for the series.[20]

Characters and world design

Developers chose to use the character of Chibi-Robo and create a game that would portray the character as attractively as possible, instead of creating a new character that could be commercially successful.[20] This was done as developers wanted to look at the role of Chibi-Robo from a "different perspective", with Chibi's role being on a much larger scale from previous games, as Chibi is now saving the people of the world. In addition, the game was not created with a coherent series timeline in mind, opting instead to use Citrusoft, a company established in previous games, to tie Chibi into the world. However, they still wanted to keep some of the characteristics of Chibi-Robo, such as his role as a garbage cleaner.[23]

Throughout the game, Chibi interacts with a series of toys that can appear within the levels. The concept of the toys was an idea of Skip Ltd., and was created with the idea that they would move when people are not present, with Toby, a toy airplane, being used in the E3 demo to demonstrate this idea.[23]

The idea to feature real-world snack brands in the game stemmed from a need to demonstrate the size comparison between Chibi-Robo and the world around him. Furthermore, the development team wanted to add another form of collectible that people could check within the game. Risa Tabata stated that developers originally considered using landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty or the Pyramids as references, however, it was felt that the landmarks would be too big compared to Chibi's size. Instead, developers chose to use snacks as they were common everywhere and would make people happy to see.[23] Tanabe explained that a challenge in using snack brands was trying to convince companies to grant permission for the brand's use. For the US and European versions of the game, the respective branches of Nintendo reached out to the companies. However, for the Japanese version, Tabata was solely responsible for getting permission from over thirty companies across the country, which was experiencing humid weather at the time.[16]

Promotion and release

The game's first official announcement was at the start of a "Nintendo Direct Micro" online presentation, a one off Nintendo Direct that aired on June 1, 2015.[33][b] The game was given a release date of October that same year and was announced alongside an accompanying amiibo.[35] Zip Lash was later featured in Nintendo's "Digital Event" presentation for E3 2015, with a playable demo available at Nintendo's E3 booth.[6][36] The game launched on October 8, 2015, in Japan and for North America the following day.[37] A demo was release in Europe later that same month, before releasing in Europe six days later on November 6.[10][38]

Tabata has stated that they wanted to create an amiibo figure that would best match the game. The focus was aimed at making the figure appear within the game, as well being able to save data to the figure, allowing players to build it how they want.[20] Initially at launch in the west, the Chibi-Robo amiibo could only be made available by being bundled with this game.[39][40] However, in Japan and later on November 30 in Europe and North America, the amiibo was sold separately as an exclusive on Amazon.[41][42] In addition, 57 other Nintendo released amiibo are compatible in the game.[43][44]

Reception

Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash received "mixed reviews", according to review aggregator Metacritic, with the website giving the game a 59/100 based upon 50 reviews.[45] Overall, most critics found the game to be underwhelming and forgettable.[2][50] Nintendo Life described the game as "fun but unexciting", noting that the game was a solid platformer but was quite unmemorable compared to other games in the genre.[13]

Throughout the reviews, critics' views on the game's controls were mixed. Some reviewers felt that the Zip Lash mechanic was a really good idea and meshed with most levels well.[9][17][49] Others felt that the controls were bad, citing them as unresponsive, slow and underutilized.[8][48] Mark Brown of Pocket Gamer wrote of how the controls of the whip, which utilized the d-pad, felt uncooperative and sluggish, comparing how it "lacked the finesse of other grappling hook games like Umihara Kawase and Bionic Commando".[47]

In addition, most critics found problems with multiple gameplay elements. Many critics derided the Destination Wheel, feeling that the idea was annoying and unneeded.[2][50] Destructoid elaborated on the argument, feeling that the idea of an ultimately pointless. They even went on to accuse the game of forced replayability and calling the concept of the "Boss Wheel" an annoyance.[15] With the vehicles, many had problems with their pacing and respawning. The vehicle sections were criticized for being slow and boring, whilst also having the problem of restarting the entire section all over due to a lack of checkpoints.[18][50] Game Informer's Jeff Cork felt that the vehicles had exaggerated momentum and really awkward controls, claiming that they dragged on for far too long.[5]

Another criticism reviews had with the game involved the levels. Many felt while the style was unique, the levels were very generic and bland, linking it to the game's forgettability.[8][48] Besides that, many felt that level's range in difficulty was very inconsistent,[11][47] with VentureBeat claiming the game had a ranging level quality.[49] Some reviews felt that game had underutilized the level's surroundings, claiming the game had "no real sense of scale" compared to Chibi-Robo's height.[5][9] However, Eurogamer did feel that the game's platforming elements were pleasant and challenging enough for playing.[46]

Whilst the game was mostly seen in a negative light, there were positives to the game. Critics described the game as having well-designed boss battles, citing them as visually appealing and fun to fight.[5][11] Most critics felt that game was worth it only for Chibi-Robo himself. Critics felt that the cute appeal of the robot is a big driving force for the game, and helped make most boring experiences slight more memorable.[2][18] Furthermore, critics claimed the game was worth getting solely for the amiibo figure, citing it as the best part of the whole game.[13][50]

Sales

In Japan, more than 14,000 copies of Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash were sold at launch, placing it in ninth place in the country's video game sales charts in its week of release.[51] Internationally, it failed to appear in the top 40 selling 3DS games in the United Kingdom, becoming overshadowed by older releases such as Mario Kart 7.[52] Because of this, Thomas Whitehead of Nintendo Life assessed Zip Lash to be a commercial failure.[51]

Legacy

Due to the game being a critical and commercial failure, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash is theoretically considered the final game in the series,[53] with Skip Ltd. having not made any games since 2015.[54] In August 2020, it was widely speculated that the company had closed down, with evidence such as an HTTP 403 error when opening the company website, the CEO of the company removing the website from his Twitter profile, and new occupation of the company building potentially pointing towards this.[55][56]

Nintendo tweeted a picture of "Fiery Chibi-Robo" in January 2018, which is of Chibi-Robo using the fire ability.[57][58] This led to speculation that a Nintendo Direct was close and a new Chibi-Robo game was going to be announced.[59] A Nintendo Direct Mini was released the next day, without a new Chibi-Robo game, although the image of "Fiery Chibi-Robo" has become a meme in the Nintendo community as representation for excitement for a Nintendo Direct.[60]

Notes

  1. ^ Known in Japan as Nagenawa Akushon! Guruguru! Chibi-Robo! (なげなわアクション!ぐるぐる!ちびロボ!, Lasso Action! We are Going Around! Chibi Robo!)
  2. ^ Zip Lash was originally presented in a standard Nintendo Direct only in Japan the day before.[34]
  3. ^ Score based on 50 reviews.

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