The world is a grim place: All across the planet, parks are being transformed into barren wastelands by pollution, and flowers have been driven nearly extinct. Only you stand in the way of a complete global catastrophe, as the happiness of the entire planet is in your hands. Or something. Though this may sound like a bad episode of Captain Planet and the Planeteers, it's actually the plot behind Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol. Once again, you step into the diminutive shoes of the four-inch-tall Chibi-Robo as you fend off the forces of the sinister Miasmo and his sidekick Sergeant Smogglor, all while trying to restore a desolate park and solve the problems of a group of toys. This delightful, bizarre adventure simplifies and builds on the gameplay of the GameCube original while making innovative use of the touch screen and presenting an often-hilarious story rife with colorful, insane characters.
The fictional company Citrusoft Robotics (finally, a benevolent corporation), creator of the original Chibi-Robo, has built a new and improved model of their tiny robot to combat the rampant pollution in the world. Dubbed the Blooming Chibi-Robo, you have been donated by your creators to a small, abandoned park to undo the damage pollution has done and attract new visitors, all with the ultimate goal of generating happiness. You initially find yourself inside the Chibi-House, your base of operations, where you meet Chet, the colorful and tragically housebound (due to a design flaw) robot that assists you. He explains your mission--to find what few flower buds remain and coax them into growing and producing seeds--and will offer questionably helpful hints all throughout the game, often apologizing profusely at the drop of a hat. He also has the useful ability to convert the happy points that you earn--a numerical indication of the amount of happiness you've generated--into electricity, the most vitally important resource you will require throughout your journey.
You see, Chibi is a battery-powered robot, and as such, you must constantly keep an eye on his power level and return him to the Chibi-House when he's in need of a recharge. But because the Chibi-House is a fully self-contained system, there's only so much power available in reserve, so you must work hard to earn happy points in a number of ways, the most common of which is the growing of flowers. Buds that are planted in fertile soil can be watered with your infinitely full squirt gun until maturity, after which a little bit of song and dance, provided with the assistance of your boom box, is enough to get them to reproduce; this creates joy, which you convert to watts in order to power yourself. Watts also serve as the currency used to purchase new Chibi-Gear such as larger batteries, faster modes of transportation, and cartridges that let you construct new games and more in the park. Be warned, though: Flowers are fickle and will grow only on fertile soil, something in short supply considering that most of the park has withered to sand. So what's a Chibi-Robo to do? Call on the help of his friends, of course!
Throughout the course of the game, you will encounter a cast of strange and eccentric living toys who fall prey to the mysterious Sergeant Smogglor and his Zapow attack. Drained of their power, the toys are counting on you to help them out by plugging into them for a quick charge, after which they offer their services to help you with park projects like tilling sand and converting it to soil, building games or park utilities, or repairing broken items. Each of the diverse characters, from the French-accented marionette Francois to the snowboarding penguin duo Pop and Fizz, has its own backstory and motivations that are revealed to you as you work with them and ultimately resolve their problems. The villains themselves are humorous and fleshed out as well, and the unique interactions you have with them and the others are among the most well-done bits of the entire game.
When not exploring or trying to grow flowers, you'll never have a shortage of things to do for happy points. Every one of the games you can construct can be played; trash can be found and thrown away; simple fetch quests can be performed for your friends; and flowers can be gathered and donated to the local florist. On top of that, new dances can be learned from Kid Kombo, the simian mascot of Monkey Burger, and park add-on cartridges can be found hidden in cardboard boxes around town. Don't let your guard down too much, though, as Miasmo's minions are ever vigilant in their quest to undo your good deeds and ruin your flower gardens--but all in all they're nothing that a little bit of water and elbow grease can't handle.
Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol also shines as one of those DS games that make effective use of the touch screen. Designed to be equally accessible to lefties and righties alike, Chibi is controlled with the directional pad or the A, B, X, and Y buttons while the stylus handles everything else, from inventory maintenance to item control. The steering of the buggy, pumping of the squirt gun, and spinning of the bicycle pedals are all actions performed with the stylus, as is the use of the boom box--each of the songs you learn has a slightly different rhythm that you must spin a turntable to, and your performance determines how effective it is at coaxing seeds out of flowers. Unfortunately, due to the somewhat precarious way in which you must hold your DS to gain access to the face and trigger buttons while still being able to use the stylus, prolonged exposure to the game can cause significant wrist cramping.
Visually speaking, Chibi-Robo fits in perfectly on the DS. The colorful and adorable graphics style that seemed so dated on the GameCube is back and much more conducive to a handheld, and the sheer sense of scale of the world that you're in as the result of being four inches tall in an outdoor environment is incredibly well realized. Every object is detailed, from the smiley faces that appear on mature flowers to the dark armor of Sergeant Smogglor. Perhaps most impressive, however, are the animations given to each character, which go a long way toward breathing life into them. Chibi is particularly vibrant in the way he quizzically turns to face you when asked a question, shakes his metal booty to the rhythm of his boom box, and manipulates objects. For the most part, the camera is where it needs to be and facing in the proper direction, but there are times--especially when driving at high speed--that it likes to point the wrong way. There is a camera reset button onscreen, but it's not an instant solution and is often too slow to efficiently help in time.
The sound design in Chibi-Robo is particularly well done. Each action you perform has its own sound effect, usually a musical tone or scale rather than a dull noise. Walking, for example, has a different scale associated with it depending on the surface walked upon. Each of these effects is entertaining and cheerful, and they all complement the diverse soundtrack, which is for the most part upbeat and jovial, but always well suited to the actions being performed and situation at hand. While the characters themselves do not have voiced dialogue per se, each one does have a unique voice that spouts off one or two words of gibberish in tandem with their lines, further reinforcing their personalities and helping bring them to life.
For all its charm, however, the game does suffer from some issues beyond camera troubles and potentially Carpal Tunnel Syndrome-inducing controls. The pacing of the gameplay is at times excruciatingly slow, and the switch from day to night will interrupt whatever it is you're doing with no recourse--often you'll be in the middle of an important task only to be recalled to the Chibi-House by Chet, despite the fact that you're a robot and you shouldn't require rest. Furthermore, as entertaining as the dialogue can be, once you hear the same lines and jokes more than twice they begin to fall flat, yet they remain entirely unskippable. Finally, the lack of any multiplayer functionality at all is a disappointment, as showing off your park to other Chibi-Robos across the world and interacting with them through minigames could have been a fantastic addition.
In the end, Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol is an amusing and entertaining adventure that, despite pacing problems, a sometimes-bad camera, and a complete lack of multiplayer, manages to simplify and expand upon the gameplay originally introduced in Chibi-Robo for the better. Few games on the DS put the touch screen to such interesting use, and the large number of minigames and activities available will keep you entertained for hours as you work to tweak your park at your own pace. This game is available for purchase exclusively at Wal-Mart, but that shouldn't stop you from dropping by to pick up a copy.