Chibi-Robo Updated Hands-On

We check out a near-finished version of Nintendo's upcoming robot-meets-girl housework simulator for the GameCube.

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Currently scheduled for release in North America early next month, Chibi-Robo is an unusual platformer in which you assume the role of a pocket-sized household robot in a modest family home. The game constantly tasks you, the titular hero, with cleaning the house belonging to your owners, the Sandersons, but it also boasts a quite charming storyline that you can play through at your own pace. We recently had an opportunity to spend a few hours with a near-complete version of Chibi-Robo, and we can report that although the game got off to a slow start, it picked up as we gained access to new abilities and new areas of the house.

At the start of the game, you'll be confined to the Sanderson family's living room, where the debris from the previous day's birthday celebration (at which you're presented to young Jenny Sanderson as a gift) is still strewn all over the place. Despite his diminutive stature, Chibi-Robo is able to store huge quantities of trash and other items inside his head, which means that your trips to the garbage can to dispose of candy wrappers, cookie crumbs, broken bottles, and such don't have to be too frequent. With that said, you'll want to deposit your trash quite regularly, because you can only carry a certain number of identical items at any one time, and because every time you do so you'll be rewarded with moolah (the game's currency) and happy points.

Rechargeable batteries can be both a blessing and a curse.
Rechargeable batteries can be both a blessing and a curse.

Far more frequent than your trips to the garbage can will be your trips to the electric wall sockets dotted all over the house. Chibi-Robo's internal battery has a very limited capacity at the start of the game, and although it will last for several minutes if you're just walking around, doing chores or moving heavy objects uses up a lot of juice. When you first start playing Chibi-Robo you can expect to spend much of your time collecting trash and cleaning up spills and dirt using a toothbrush. As you impress the Sandersons and earn more happy points, you'll be awarded "bonus batteries" that increase the life of your battery quite considerably, affording you the freedom to explore areas where wall outlets are scarce.

Although much of Chibi-Robo is set inside a single-family home, exploration is a big part of the game. Not all of the trash that the Sandersons leave lying around the house ends up on the floor, and since you're small enough to hide under a coffee mug, figuring out how to get up onto a kitchen table or a high shelf to retrieve a discarded candy wrapper can be quite challenging. You'll need to open drawers so that they become staircases, push and pull objects around that you can climb onto, and use shoelaces and light cords as climbing ropes. Early on in the game you'll also receive a "Chibi-copter" upgrade, which can be used to slow your fall from high places and also to hover for short distances.

After familiarizing yourself with Chibi-Robo's intuitive controls and impressing one of the many toys that come to life at night in the Sanderson house, you'll have your first opportunity to really broaden your horizons by leaving the living room. Other areas of the house that we explored include the kitchen, the backyard, the foyer, and the basement. Each new location that you gain access to will present with you with some new challenges, and you'll find that some of them require you to complete tasks in multiple areas. To get through the foyer patrolled by gun-toting Free Ranger eggs, for example, you'll need to equip an item retrieved from a countertop in the kitchen.

The lethargic nature of Chibi-Robo's camera--which can thankfully be controlled manually--can make locating objects of interest unnecessarily tricky when using the default third-person perspective. You'll have the option to switch to first-person "Chibi-vision" at any time, though, which not only lets you look around and get a feeling for your surroundings, but also highlights any items that you can interact with. Chibi-vision can also be used in conjunction with the "Chibi-blaster" upgrade--a weapon that's effective not only for battling the robotic "spydorz" that show up to cause trouble from time to time, but also for destroying the colorful stickers that the Sandersons see fit to use for everything from sealing a drawer shut to repairing a cracked window.

The Sandersons' toys only come alive at night.
The Sandersons' toys only come alive at night.

Unlike Chibi-Robo's boost batteries, the Chibi-blaster is an upgrade that you'll spend your moolah on. Using the PC inside Chibi's house (which is, in turn, inside the Sandersons' living room), you can purchase lots of different items from an online store. Items for sale include a Chibi-Robo-sized hot rod, a remote-control space fighter known as the "Space Scrambler," flower seeds that can be planted, and blaster upgrades that increase the weapon's range and allow you to charge up your shots. You can also buy timers that alter the length of each day and night in-game, giving you more time to complete any objectives that are only possible to do at a certain time of day. Many of the characters that you'll interact with in Chibi-Robo, for example, are active only during the day or just at night.

If it weren't for Chibi-Robo's innate quirkiness and charm, its less-than-impressive visuals and promise of household chores as gameplay might make it an easy game to overlook. What we've played of Chibi-Robo thus far definitely has us intrigued to see how both the gameplay and the storyline will develop, though, so stay tuned for a full review in the coming weeks.

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