Review: Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash (3DS)

Good things don’t always come in small packages.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 10/23/2015 09:00 3 Comments     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Gameplay is fun in spurts; collectible figurines!
Poison Mushroom for...
Level progression makes no sense; not enough challenge; boring environments

Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash is obnoxiously close to being a great game. Chibi-Robo himself is a really lovable lead, which is often the case with Nintendo’s various mascots. Unlike the average Mario or Kirby game, however, Chibi-Robo is rather notorious for being a niche series, one that players will either latch onto and love, or walk away wondering what all the fuss was about. While Zip Lash certainly has a lot of what made previous Chibi-Robo installments the cult classics that they are, it sadly falls short of their pedigree. With a bewildering level progression system, mildly entertaining platforming, and bland environments, Zip Lash undermines what could have been a more memorable departure for the affable robot.

I’m going straight to my biggest problem with Zip Lash, and it’s the game’s level advancement. Normally, once a stage is beaten it’s on to the next one, sequentially, much like in games like Donkey Kong Country, for instance. Other games have branching paths, like Super Mario World, but players are always able to, you know, move on to a new stage to play no matter what. This is not the case in Zip Lash. Once a level is beaten, a roulette wheel appears to choose how many spaces forward on the world map Chibi-Robo will be traveling. It’s certainly a unique approach to moving between stages, but unique doesn’t necessarily mean fun, or sensible. This use of a roulette wheel means frequent revisits to old stages, retreads that can’t be skipped, I might add. Not good.

There is a saving grace in the form of using the game’s currency of Moolah to customize the roulette to make the needed number to move to a new stage appear on every space of the wheel, but then the question becomes, why even bother with the wheel in the first place? I have no idea, and I don’t really think the design team does, either. It’s one of multiple frustrations that sprang up as I played Zip Lash. The game is a 2D platformer, which is a first for the series, and I was pleased by how many Chibi staples were able to make the transition. Picking up trash, plugging in and recharging Chibi’s batteries, and even his lovable sidekick Telly are along for the ride, but beyond this familiar veneer, Zip Lash is a very by-the-numbers platformer.

Chibi swings his Chibi-Plug (power cord) around, using it for smacking enemies, snagging items, and as the nominal “Zip Lash,” which allows him to ricochet the dongle around the screen to reach out of the way spots. It’s a lot more exciting in theory than execution, unfortunately, as the pace of the game is very slow and there’s virtually no challenge to be had from any of the enemies. I also was confused by the inability to aim the Chibi-Plug straight up; it can only travel at an upwards diagonal, left, or right. With many targets directly overhead, having to manipulate Chibi to make awkward diagonal lobs with his power plug left me far from entertained. In Zip Lash mode Chibi has full 360-degree aiming control, so I don’t know why he’s so limited when he’s doing normal whip lashes. There are vehicle segments interspersed throughout the adventure, but they’re not especially thrilling, and even occasionally are maddening (I’m looking at you, Chibi-Submarine).

Zip Lash is also somewhat on the bland side, visually. There are moments when the game looks brilliant (especially the intro before the title screen– Chibi looks like a car in a Forza game!), but the environments are often are dull and unremarkable, dragging down what is otherwise a decent graphics engine. Prior Chibi-Robo titles have taken advantage of showing how small Chibi is in comparison to the real world around him, with oversized, everyday objects to marvel at. Zip Lash has a little of that going on, but for the most part this integral aspect of the series is largely absent. Amiibo integration helps spice things up slightly, with a series of cool figurines to collect and some other unlockables to enjoy, but it’s not enough to save Zip Lash from strangling itself with its own Chibi-Plug. It’s a light platformer that’s just clever enough to warrant a look, and Amiibo collectors will certainly want to snag the bundle that comes with a Chibi-Robo figure, but otherwise I can’t rightly endorse this one with a lot of enthusiasm. It’s fun in spurts, but overall a disappointment that hopefully doesn’t consign this series to years in limbo.

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