2015 has been an interesting year for Nintendo. On the Wii U, we haven’t seen many big releases from the Big N itself, with Splatoon, Yoshi’s Woolly World and Super Mario Maker being the only three titles that really stand out this year. Sequels and new entries in long-running series have been few and far between, and I think I’ve personally spent more time trying to amass more amiibo then I have games.
The same can be said for the 3DS, with the biggest release of the year coming in the form of a remake of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Even with a hardware revision, the 3DS has spent most of the year hibernating, and while there are some big titles on the way for both the 3DS and Wii U in 2016, I think most of us are just waiting for Nintendo to make their move with the upcoming “NX.”
And then there’s Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash.
In some ways, I can’t help but feel bad for the titular robot; he’s been shuffled from taking center stage in a full 3D platformer to small experimental games on Nintendo’s handhelds. His newest outing, subtitled Zip Lash, finds its home on the Nintendo 3DS, this time taking the form of a 2.5D platformer.
This time around, Chibi-Robo is on an adventure to defend the world from the tiniest alien invasion you’ve ever seen, as they attempt to steal everyone’s favorite snacks and treats. Normally, I simply glance over the ‘plot’ (and I use that term loosely) in Nintendo games, but I have to make mention that rather than simply dreaming up fictionalized companies and products, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash is chock-full of real, brand name treats. I’m not entirely sure if this was done for fun, or if it’s the product of in-game advertising. It’s neither a bad or good thing, just a little odd.
It wouldn’t be a Chibi-Robo game if there wasn’t a new mechanic or setting, and this time the titular Zip Lash is at Chibi-Robo’s disposal. Simply put, it’s an electrical plug, but Chibi-Robo can use it as a whip, in order to take out enemies, or as a grappling hook, in order to maneuver around the environment. It can also be used to gather in-game collectibles, of which there is a good amount (completionists can rejoice). At the beginning of every level, the cord from the plug starts off rather short, though you can extend it by 20 times its original length by collecting blue orbs that are strewn throughout each stage.
While levels themselves aren’t bursting with the level of creativity seen in flagship Nintendo games, the core mechanics of running, jumping and using your Zip Lash to solve puzzles and defeat bosses is fairly enjoyable for the most part. There are plenty of ‘vehicle’ sections (skateboarding, for instance) which help to shake things up when they become stale, and there are plenty of interesting boss fights to tackle.
There’s a lot of potential for replay value with Chibi-Robo, especially if you’re the kind of gamer who’s keen on obtaining every trinket, medallion, and treat that developer skip Ltd. has hidden, though it’s a bit disheartening to have some of these collectibles locked, with the only way to find them being to replay a level after you’ve already beaten it once. Unfortunately, I can’t bring myself to replay most of these levels for one simple reason…
The Destination Wheel.
I won’t even pretend to know a thing or two about game design, but I can’t help but sit here (as I type this review) and wonder why on Earth such a backwards, obtrusive, and generally annoying feature would be implemented in a game, especially in this day and age.
As I’m sure you’re wondering, the Destination Wheel is a small roulette wheel that you have to spin after each level. You see, rather than following a set, linear path of levels to complete, Zip Lash has you spin the aforementioned wheel to land on a number. The number you land on dictates how many spaces Chibi-Robo will travel on a map, and wherever you land will be the next level you play. At its core, this isn’t a terrible idea, as it could allow you to play levels out of order if you should want.
The thing is, that these maps are laid out in loops and circles, meaning that if you should mistime a button press, and the Destination Wheel should land on the wrong number, you could end up landing on a level you didn’t intend to play, or worse, a level you have already beaten. And yes, you’ll have to play that level before you get another shot at spinning the wheel again.
There are ways to obtain a re-spin (which involves hitting certain enemies at the end of a level), and you can purchase numbers to place on the wheel itself (using in-game currency), but it’s completely baffling as to why such an annoying mechanic would find its way into the final game. The only thing I could think of that the Destination Wheel signifies skip Ltd.’s attempt to extend the game’s replay value. Whatever the reason, it’s a complete failure of an idea.
And honestly, that’s what upsets me the most about Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash. It’s a charming and often times enjoyable platformer, with genuine moments of excitement in the form of a boss fight here and a vehicle section there. It’s a huge shame that all of this is brought down by the monotonous Destination Wheel, which is by far the worst part of the series to date. If you’re going to embark on a quest with Chibi-Robo, you better pack a lot of patience.
This review is based on the Nintendo 3DS exclusive version of the game, which we were provided with for review.
There's plenty of good times and fun to be had with Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, but it's all bogged down by a restrictive and archaic level selection system.