Chibi-Robo: Zen and the Art of No-Wax Floor Maintenance

I'm a dabbler. I dabble. Sometimes I dabble in cooking styles, sometimes in fashion, sometimes in major life changes. Occasionally something sticks, but more often than not, after I'm done with my dabbling, I return to the old tried and true. Like chicken-fried steak, black t-shirts and jobs that suck.

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/scrub.jpg)



Several years ago, I dabbled in Eastern religions. I was working at a bookstore, and the Religion guy was on vacation. So, in the process of minding his part of the store, I decided to digest dust-jacket descriptions of just about every major world religion before zeroing in on the "Eastern" shelf. Of those books, I read mostly the pop-culture digest versions. Tao of Pooh was my favorite. That crazy bear is so wise, and so dumb. But the only book I ended up reading all the way through was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Part of Zen tells the story of two men traveling across the country on their motorcycles. One knows nothing about caring for his bike, instead relying on others to do the work for him, the other is a bit of an enthusiast. The tale is about (among other things) motorcycle maintenance and how the simple act of caring for the machine that makes you go can teach you a lot about what's important and what's bullsh*t. I'll skip to the end for you - it's all bullsh*t. Even the motorcycle part (hint: the motorcycle was a metaphor for himself).

I've since lost my copy of that book, but I metaphorically carry it with me wherever I go. It's just one of those kinds of books. Like Johnathan Livingston Seagull or Things to Expect When You're Expecting. The wisdom contained therein rings so true that you cannot help but absorb it into your worldview. Games of the same ilk are few and far between. We've talked about many of them on these very pages, in fact. The latest of these is Chibi-Robo.

If you're like me, and you bought a Nintendo Gamecube to play a few Zelda and Mario games, were wowed by Resident Evil 4 and have since been using the device as a doorstop, it's time to dig that controller out of the bottom of the closet. Check under your summer sandals. That's where mine was.

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Chibi-Robo, the adventure platformer developed by Skip and published by Nintendo, tells the story of the Sanderson family and their new toy/home helper robot, the three-inch tall Chibi-Robo. You play Chibi-Robo, and your goal is to assist the Sandersons by cleaning stains with a toothbrush, picking up trash and playing matchmaker to a host of animate toys. By fulfilling these tasks you earn money (called moolah) and "Happy Points," both of which you can use to upgrade yourself and extend your capabilities. The Happy Points raise you in rank, which in turn earns you larger batteries. The larger your battery, the longer you can attempt to make people happy without having to plug yourself into the wall to recharge. Follow so far? By getting better at what you do, you become able to become better at what you do. How many other games reward your success by making it easier for you to accomplish your tasks? Not many, and the change is refreshing.

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/frog%20girl.thumbnail.jpg)

The Sanderson family is perhaps the most interesting assortment of giant humans ever put into a game. Mr. Sanderson is a large, loud, untidy man, who's recently become unemployed. His wife struggles valiantly to not want to kill him, but seeing as her job is to raise his child and cook his meals, her patience soon wears thin. The child in question is also a piece of work. She wears a frog hat and refuses to say anything other than "Ribbit." Add to all of this the fact that the Chibi-Robo is but the latest illicit off-budget expenditure that Mr. Sanderson has inflicted on the household finances, and you've got a pretty good pressure cooker of adventure gaming possibilities.

Mechanically, the game is all but flawless. The designers have seen fit to give the player complete camera control, allowing you to pan around almost any obstacle to find your path through the maze of ordinary household objects that are Chibi's main antagonists in the game. Even when you can't zoom around a thing, Chibi-Robo always appears as a rough outline of himself when he is behind a solid object, making it possible to control the robot accurately even when you can't see him. That more designers haven't adopted this amazing, yet subtle game mechanic is one of the most profoundly disturbing tragedies in gaming today. For even when faced with an ordinarily frustrating jumping exercise, the precise control and exceptional camera make planting Chibi in just the right spot a breeze.

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/dog_1.jpg)

Yet controls and a precise camera can only make a game good. Chibi-Robo is truly great. What sets it apart are the aforementioned story, excellent graphics and a soundscape that can only be described as "inspired." Every move Chibi-Robo makes creates music. His footsteps, for example, sound like the tinkling of a xylophone, producing differently pitched notes on different surfaces. Every tool he uses produces a different sound. "What could make cleaning up after a dysfunctional family fun?" I wondered when I first saw the game. The fact that by merely scrubbing the floor I was able to almost compose my own piece of music is the answer I discovered. After merely a few hours, I was enthralled. Cleaning house had never been more entertaining. Or more relaxing

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/phil.jpg)

Playing Chibi-Robo is like working on the machine that makes you go. The music, the atmosphere, the simple, yet challenging nature of the quests and the superbly smooth gameplay make it less of a game and more of a meditative exercise. One that also happens to be wildly entertaining. The titular robot doesn't speak or ostensibly feel, but through his unquestioning drive to excel only at making other people happy by performing useful tasks, one can (if one wishes), find within oneself a center of joy and understanding. I did. I played the game for almost 24 hours over the course of four days, and when I was done I felt like a completely healed human being. Then I cleaned my apartment top to bottom, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Chibi-Robo
Official Site
Release Date: June 2005
Skip, Ltd.
Nintendo

Comments

Makes me almost want to buy a tv and dust off the ol gamecube.

This game sounds pretty good, heck, I bought my gamecube when it came out to just play animal crossing.

How do I put this delicately? Does Chibi Robo get it on?

Danjo Olivaw wrote:

How do I put this delicately? Does Chibi Robo get it on?

No. But I'll give 50 Happy Points to the first person who correctly names the cartoon which inspired those outfits.

KrazyTacoFO wrote:

Makes me almost want to buy a tv and dust off the ol gamecube.

This game sounds pretty good, heck, I bought my gamecube when it came out to just play animal crossing.

Sounds like my reason for buying a DS. I watched my roomate play this game when it first came out and I have to whole heartedly agree with every point in this review.

Not sure about the outfits, but I am sure that you are absolutely correct about this game. As I said in the thread about episode 22 of radio:

zeroKFE wrote:

The feeling I got when playing this game is very similar to that which games like Katamari, Pikmin, and Cubivore give me. This sort of light hearted, off beat madness channeled into a keenly refined game experience is the best of what the Japanese have to offer the gaming world, in my opinion. I too cannot recommend this game more highly (along with the other three games I just mentioned, for that matter).

Which brings up a great point: if you want something else fun and bizarre to do with your lonely little Gamecube, try to get ahold of a copy of Cubivore. It might be a little hard to find, but I know for a fact that you can at least rent it from rental services like Gamefly, since that is what I did.

Mazinger?

X

I'm no anime expert or anything, but the two almost-matching suits reminded me very strongly of a cartoon I saw as a kid.

Fletcher wrote:

X

I'm no anime expert or anything, but the two almost-matching suits reminded me very strongly of a cartoon I saw as a kid.

I wanna say G-Force, or Gatcha in japan.

Sku Boi wrote:

I wanna say G-Force, or Gatcha in japan.

Yeah, that's the one I was thinking of. 50 Happy Points to Sku Boi.

Excellent write-up, Fletcher. Knowing your tastes, I must commend you for your willingness to play any game with the word "chibi" in it. I'm definitely going pick this up. I've been looking for something I can play with my daughter, and this looks ideal. In fact, I'm sure I'd be playing it if even if I didn't have a kid.

hmmmm .... my daughter refuses to dress in anything but a frog outfit, and she too will not say anything but 'ribbit'.

I need a Chibi-Robo...

(incidentally, wasn't there a character in the Bubble Trouble games like that? )

Yay, another Fletcher write-up!

Fletcher wrote:

How many other games reward your success by making it easier for you to accomplish your tasks? Not many, and the change is refreshing.

Any game will do that, no? Collecting coins in SMB to gain lives, levelling up in RPG's, gaining skills in Deus Ex, ...

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

I don't know why, but this title made me chuckle

Great review, sounds like a great game. I love me an atmospheric game experience!

Probably one of my next games.
Now i'm playing Killer7 it'll be very different.

Great writeup. It sounded like an interesting game when I heard out it on episode 22. All these great reviews are starting to make me want to pick up a console.

dejanzie wrote:
Fletcher wrote:

How many other games reward your success by making it easier for you to accomplish your tasks? Not many, and the change is refreshing.

Any game will do that, no? Collecting coins in SMB to gain lives, levelling up in RPG's, gaining skills in Deus Ex, ...

I'd agrue that in most RPG's when you level up they just make the things you fight harder so the game really doesn't get any easier, it just lets you have more options to play with. Of course if you go back to the "lower level" areas it is easier but then your rewards tend drop off quite quickly. It still sounds like its a refreshing change.

After hearing about this game on the radio program, and reading a number of articles, I'm convinced I must play this game

For those that have played it, does it feel like there are plenty of places to explore and discover as the game progresses? How big is exploration in this game?

After listening to the Podcast, I decided to pick up a copy of this game. It'll probably get delivered to my door some, but in preparation I fully intend to go around my house, cleaning floors and walls with a toothbrush - musically, of course. Excellent review on both the Podcast and here Fletch!

The premise of Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance isn't about two men traveling. It's a man (in a deepening state if A Scanner Darkly-like schizophrenia) traveling with a kid.

A recommended read to everyone, BTW.

LupusUmbrus wrote:

For those that have played it, does it feel like there are plenty of places to explore and discover as the game progresses? How big is exploration in this game?

This might be mildly spoilerish, but not much. There is a good sense of exploration in the game even though the house you live in is relatively small. There isn't so much discovering of new rooms, but rather finding ways to reach new places in the same rooms. So in one way you might be a little dissapointed that there isn't a tremendous variety of sights to see, but all in all I think it does a good job of satisfying the exploration itch.

It sounds like great fun. But no cube with which to play. Now I am sad and must wear the frog hat. The frog hat will make everything better.

Ribbit.

I've walked past and picked this game up about 100 times at Gamestop. I think next time I'll buy it. Excellent review.

I couldn't agree more with the review. An amazing game.

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

The premise of Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance isn't about two men traveling ...

I didn't say that it was, Hoss.

The Fletch wrote:

Part of Zen tells the story of two men traveling ...

I was referring to the part of the story dealing with the main character's interaction with the guy who owns the fancy BMW motorcycle. My recall is not good enough to provide character names or exact relationships. I think he was a brother-in-law or something. Anyway, the dichotomy between the two men is what I remember most about that book. Perhaps it was just a small part of the overall story, but it's obviously the part that meant the most to me

Fletch, I bet you reviewed it just so you'd have the excuse to keep saying "Chibi-Robo" some more.

Can you blame him? Chibi is a fun word to say. Chibi. Chibi Von Richthofen. Pretty nice ring to it.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Zen ATAOMM is online, should anyone have a yen for zen.

Fletcher wrote:

Several years ago, I dabbled in Eastern religions. I was working at a bookstore, and the Religion guy was on vacation. So, in the process of minding his part of the store, I decided to digest dust-jacket descriptions of just about every major world religion before zeroing in on the "Eastern" shelf. Of those books, I read mostly the pop-culture digest versions. Tao of Pooh was my favorite. That crazy bear is so wise, and so dumb. But the only book I ended up reading all the way through was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Wandering from the topic a bit, but if you're still interested in this sort of thing & haven't read them already, I strongly recommend Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind and Philip Kapleau Roshi's The Three Pillars of Zen

duckideva wrote:

Oh, I forgot to mention that Zen ATAOMM is online, should anyone have a yen for zen.

Great find, thanks!

Fletch hardly needs any more Zen, now that he's got a Zen turtle.

Where have you gotten it, BTW? I also want me one!

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

Fletch hardly needs any more Zen, now that he's got a Zen turtle.

Where have you gotten it, BTW? I also want me one!

Zen Turtle (kind of...)

Also, on topic, they should port this game to the DS if possible. The stylus could be used to control the toothbrush and other tools.