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Tales From The Game Shelf: Chibi-Robo!
A game like Chibi-Robo can be described much in the same way as a favorite childhood toy. Cute, quirky, and just a tad odd-looking, its simple charms belay a kind of pathos beneath their nostalgic license. A mirror of innocence as much as our conscious efforts to recapture them, Chibi-Robo channels an emotional scope and depth far beyond the kiddy trappings of its lovable face. Though lost by time to bargain bins and closets, little Chibi demonstrates a remarkable ability for storytelling worth digging out of its toy-box.
Incoming Spoiler Alert! For those of you unlucky enough not to have played this marvelous classic, proceed with caution.
Our story takes us into the world of the Sanderson family, where all is not well. Eight-year-old Jenny fancies a frog bonnet 24/7 and speaks only in her own imaginary language of “Ribbitese.” Her bumbling father, Mr. Sanderson, is unemployed. A middle-aged man-child, he frivolously spending his family’s savings on knick knacks at the cost of the family bills as he wastes away watching old serials of his favorite superhero, Drake Redcrest. The family dog, Tao, does what any dog does best by doing nothing but eat, sleep, and track mud everywhere. Meanwhile, Mrs. Sanderson is going crazy from stress and frustration with the whole lot of ’em, locking herself in her room to her own thoughts.
What about you? Why, you’re the game’s titular, ten-cenimeters-tall robot: “Chibi-Robo!” Bought for little Jenny’s eighth birthday with “moohlah” the Sandersons really didn’t have, it’s up to you and your flying TV-shaped manager Telly Vision to bring happiness to this family one way or another as their stalwart companion. Your job doesn’t stop there! When the family’s away, the toys come out to play, only these toys have some serious issues all their own.
It’s this peculiar backdrop that sets the stage for what subtle curiosities follow Chibi-Robo’s world. Though limited to a single house, Chibi-Robo’s universe is deceptively small. A day in the life of this plucky robot commonly reduces you to the busy work of household chores. You cook, you clean, you take out the garbage, only to recharge your batteries (quite literally) and do it all over again. It’s a empty look at life: work bites.
Your daily grind of housework is what gives way to the true heart of Chibi-Robo. Among the day to day errands of scrubbing floors and hunting down every last candy wrapper, you begin to unravel the mystery behind your beloved family. The Sandersons’ domestic squabbling gives way to a family on edge. Mr. Sanderson reveals a man in a mid-life crisis, desperately wallowing in his lost youth, laughing only to hold back the tears. Jenny, meanwhile, hides behind the mask of make-believe, her frog tongue a retreat from the reality of her damaged parentage. Mrs. Anderson can only take so much from the chaos around her, finding solace with you, the one person she can talk to. In all this misery, even you, a tiny, barely big enough to lug your own plug above your head, can make a difference in their lives in ways a mere vacuum can’t. You bring joy.
Perhaps no one but your fellow toys can add to the complexity of Chibi-Robo’s heart. By day, the Sanderson’s house appears like any other, occupied only by its flesh and blood. By night, it’s abuzz with a life all its own in its walking action figures and talking stuff animals. Some of these act as any standard children’s book archetypes. The heroic Drake Redcrest embodies your cliched action hero and Princess Pitt the graceful fairytale queen. Others like the ovoid Free Rangers, embody the stereotypical macho soldiers in egg-form.
Some are more puzzling conundrums. Among them are Mort, a bandaged mummy doll kept in a shoebox under Jenny’s bed and in love with the unobtainable Ms. Pitts. Sophie is Tao’s stuffed caterpillar toy, secretly holding a crush with the dashing Mr. Redcrest, keeping her daydreams to herself in her journal. Dinah the Lego dinosaur can’t help contain her feelings for Funky Phil, a happy toy flower proudly basking on the window sill, and let’s not talk of a particular horrid psycho teddy bear with the honey addiction. Finally, your own manager of Telly Vision dreams of becoming a singer. It’s these hapless folk and their tales of unrequited love that bring a surprising sense of humanity among the mundane of everyday life. All of them feel like old friends by the end and they bring with them a soul as unique as the game that instills their hopes and dreams.
Beneath these adorable sensibilities lies a darker narrative. It’s not long before you discover that the Sanderson home holds a chilling secret. Deep in the basement, you find the haunting, broken body of your predecessor, Giga-Robo. It is through him you learn the truth behind your world’s existence. Thanks to the benevolent traveling alien, Giga-Robo was granted two wishes, the first to give all toys a soul, the second to make robots that didn’t demand such taxing energy. It was this touching second wish and sacrifice that killed him and saved the world from a major energy crisis. You manage to revive Giga-Robo for one last, dying wish, that of having an infinite battery supply. The old bot finally walks again, claiming his eternal reward.
This revelation is not long dispelled by what brings the household together once more. The evil robot race of the Spydorz have invaded the Sanderson family abode and the world, the very inventions that Mr. Sanderson is revealed to have created. It is only then that the inner hero in Mr. Sanderson rises to the occasion, lending you the weapons to defeat the Spydorz queen and throwing himself into the fray to stop them in the process. As the Spydorz all drop dead, the world’s been saved, your family’s whole again, and life goes on, you’ve won the whole shebang.
That leaves the most important lesson to be taught in Chibi-Robo. The Sandersons, though poor and dysfunctional, reveal that they deeply care for each other and would do anything to ensure that their family remains a happy one. Granted, Mr. Sanderson still disturbs the neighbors when Drake Redcrest is on the television, and Jenny still thinks she has been cursed by the Evil Frog Wizard, but the family itself is closer than ever by the end of the game. Underneath its cartoon fixtures, Chibi-Robo is a touching story of love, loss, and redemption and it’ll have you plug into an adventure you won’t soon forget.
Alright, we’ve told you our story, now it’s time for you to tell us yours! Share your favorite game story with us in the comments below and enter to win a free game code for DoubleFine’s The Cave on PS3! Make sure to check back with us next week when we announce the winner and continue reading at Leviathyn!