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Nintendo History 101: Chibi-Robo part 1

I hope everyone is sitting comfortably with a pen and paper in hand because, yes, this will be on the test (just kidding!). Today on Source Gaming, we are introducing a brand new series called Nintendo History 101. In this series, we educate our readers on the history of some of Nintendo’s franchises. Do not just think we are sticking to the likes of Mario and Zelda; our aim with this series is to inform everyone of the creation, legacy and future of ALL of Nintendo’s franchises. This goes from retro classics like Balloon Fight, to somewhat obscure spin-offs like the Tingle series and the very minor series that you may not know existed like the Marvelous franchise. Today, we are gonna take our microscopes and start of small by looking at Nintendo’s curious little cleaner: Chibi-Robo!

Chibi-Robo first debuted on the Nintendo GameCube in 2005 for Japan and in 2006 for both North America and Europe. Chibi-Robo! Plug into Adventure was a second party title developed by the Japanese company skip Ltd. Previously, for Nintendo, skip Ltd. had created a Japan exclusive, original game. This was GiFTPiA for the GameCube, an adventure title that had players helping out residents of the protagonist’s town while trying to pay off a huge-debt. The protagonist got into this pickle by sleeping through an important and expensive ceremony. The team who worked on Chibi-Robo was not very large, being just over a dozen people at it’s largest. The director of the series is a man named Kenshi Nishi, who before getting his big break, had previously had a minor role on Chrono Trigger while under Square. Nishi got his chance to show himself with games like Moon remix RPG Adventure on the PlayStation and L.O.L.: lack of love on the Dreamcast. He eventually co-founded skip Ltd. in July 2000 and directed both GiFTPiA and Chibi-Robo!. Nishi always described his style of game making as ‘taking something simple and then breaking it down and rebuilding it again in a unique way” (Nintendo Power 201, pp.28–33. ISSN 1041-9551).

Chibi-Robo! was skip’s first step into the Western market and has since become the company’s best-selling franchise, spawning four sequels with the latest coming in 2015 for the Nintendo 3DS titled Chibi-Robo! Zip-Lash.

From catching burglars to scrubbing toilets

Chibi-Robo! was first announced for the Nintendo GameCube in early 2003 and was a radically different game to how it eventually turned out. Originally, the game was owned not by Nintendo but by Bandai. While the main character of Chibi-Robo was still the same, the game’s objectives and gameplay style were very different. Under Bandai’s leadership, players did not have full control over Chibi-Robo. Instead, the game would have played like a point-and-click style adventure game where players would tell Chibi-Robo where to go next and how to solve the various puzzles. Chibi-Robo would wonder around the room in an overhead view, following the player’s cursor, which changed colour depending on whether an object could be interacted with or not. The original beta had various different ideas put forward that never made it into the final game, such as the ability for Chibi-Robo to learn and take independence based on how the player reacted and the ability to upgrade itself using memory chips. At one point, it may have even been possible to control multiple Chibi-Robo at once, almost like Pikmin.

In this original beta, the setting for Chibi-Robo! was very different to how it would eventually turn out. Rather than being in the Sanderson house and owned by the family child, Jenny Sanderson, Chibi-Robo was owned by his creator Professor Sendagaya and the whole game would take place in and around the professor’s laboratory. The game’s story would have involved stopping two burglars called Cookie and Arnie, from stealing the professor’s latest invention, in a fashion similar to that of the hit movie Home Alone – solving puzzles and setting up traps.

Chibi-Robo! was originally scheduled to come out in June 2003 for Japan and in Spring 2004 for the rest of the world, with a promised appearance at E3 that year. Unfortunately, Bandai were not happy with the way the game was turning out and after failing to meet its June 2003 deadline, Bandai announced in February 2004, 1 year after the game’s initial reveal, that Chibi-Robo had been placed on ‘indefinite hold’. Things were really not looking good for our pint-sized hero; the publisher had walked away from the project and skip LTD., being a small development studio, was unable to publish the game on their own. Luckily for everyone involved, Nintendo had been keeping an eye on skip and the Chibi-Robo project and swooped in to save the day. Nintendo bought the rights of the Chibi-Robo franchise and got skip back into the game.

A Reworked Game

Kensuke Tanabe, who had previously worked as producer of the Metroid Prime series, was introduced to help lead this project in a better direction. Tanabe started this by scrapping nearly everything that had gone into the original game. The only two aspects brought over were the actual design of Chibi-Robo and the power plug that was required to keep Chibi-Robo powered up and alive. The first thing Mr. Tanabe made sure to change was the way the game was played:

“With the point-and-click style, players can feel their controlling characters only objectively. And it does not fit very well with [ analogue ] stick control of GameCube (the result might have been different if it had been Wii Remote).  Because of my belief that creating a sense of identity between Chibi-Robo and the player would lead to the title’s appeal more than anything else, I asked Mr. Nishi to change “point-and-click” style to “stick control.”” Kensuke Tanabe, Producer of Chibi-Robo

A happy birthday party reflects the change in tone quite nicely.

A happy birthday party reflects the change in tone quite nicely.

The game changed from a point-and-click style adventure game to the platforming-adventure game and along with it was a massive shift in tone for the game. The game’s plot saw a dramatic overhaul, being moved from a professor’s lab to a suburban home, with Chibi-Robo trying to earn ‘Happy Points’ by doing good deeds with the overall goal to become the Super Chibi-Robo – the best Chibi-Robo in the whole world! Inspired by Pixar’s Toy Story, Director Kenshi Nishi believed that they could portray complex human drama and make it look fantastical by portraying it through the eyes of a child’s toy (Nintendo Power 201, pp.28–33. ISSN 1041-9551). Some of the topics discussed in the game are child loneliness, divorce, loss of a loved one and pollution. Kenshi Nishi wanted these topics in the game in order to surprise the player, as the rest of the game’s tone is very happy-go-lucky and this contrast would make the game’s setting more interesting overall.

Along with Tanabe as producer was Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto. Miyamoto signed on as the game’s senior producer after being introduced to Chibi-Robo by Tanabe and liking what he saw; however, due to being incredibly busy with other projects at the same time, his involvement was very minuscule. According to Kenshi Nishi and Kensuke Tanabe, Miyamoto’s major contribution to the title was the use of the Chibi-Plug for more than just charging up Chibi-Robo. The ideas of chibi-doors, for example, came from Miyamoto’s suggestions. When asked on Miyamoto’s involvement, Kensuke Tanabe said:

Miyamoto emphasized [ we should ] make use of the Chibi-plug, but except for that, he left it to our own discretion.”

Despite having a slow-start under Bandai, Tanabe has said that development for Chibi-Robo went very fast once it found its direction, taking only 8 months to complete. This was a monumental task for a team of roughly 12 people. As with most games, not every idea made it into the final game. There were three notable ones in particular that did not make the final cut: the ability to let Chibi-Robo fly around the house freely in his Chibi-copter (which was cut both for technical reasons and because the team felt it did not feel right for the game); a wind-powered generator that Chibi-Robo could carry around that allowed him to charge up his battery by standing in places where a breeze could be felt. Finally, Kenshi Nishi had hoped to include more houses into the game; he liked the idea of Chibi-Robo traveling to the other houses in the neighborhood and interacting with other Chibi-Robo.

Chibi-Robo! Released onto the world!

In October 2004, 8 months after Bandai cancelled the original Chibi-robo concept, Nintendo re-announced the little helper through popular Japanese magazine Famitsu. Although the title was only slated for Japan during this time, Nintendo of America showed off the title at E3 2005 and even provided a short demo on the show floor. The game was received rather positively by critics at this E3, commenting on its quirky settings and original, strange, ideas. The game was eventually released in Japan on June 23rd 2005 with an American release date announced for February 8th 2006 and a European release date given for May 26th of the same year.

Reception of Chibi-Robo was very positive. Most reviewers of the game praised its sound direction and setting but opinions on the actual gameplay ranged from rewarding to repetitive. The Official Nintendo Magazine of UK even called it the GameCube’s ‘last classic’ (East, Tom (2009-02-17). “Nintendo Feature: 100 Best Nintendo Games: Part One”.Official Nintendo Magazine). Despite the mostly high-praise, Chibi-Robo was a commercial flop, selling only 0.39 million worldwide and selling just under 34,000 units in its first week in Japan.

Despite the game being a commercial failure, Nintendo Co. Ltd. tried one more time to release the original Chibi-Robo to the world. In 2008 Nintendo announced the New Play control series where Nintendo remade a bunch of their GameCube titles with new Wii remote support. Among the 7 title shown was Chibi-Robo! Plug into Adventure! Despite initially being announced worldwide, Chibi-Robo! would be the only one of these remade titles to not be released outside of Japan (Metroid Prime 1 & 2 would be combined to make the Metroid Prime Trilogy pack). No particular reason was given for why the game never saw the light of day in the US as the original game sold best stateside; although, it’s speculated to have been due to lackluster sales of the game’s sequel, Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol.

The New Play control version of the game added in motion controls when using certain Chibi-gear and allowed players to use the pointer to move the camera, navigate menus and look at interact-able items. Unfortunately, Chibi-Robo on Wii was more of commercial failure than the original, selling only 11,000 in its first week in Japan. This figure becomes even worse when you realize that this game was released during the Nintendo Wii’s prime years, when compared to the waning years of the GameCube, and on a system with a larger install base than the one the original game was released on.

I think it is fair to say that Chibi-Robo! had a very rocky start, both in development and public acceptance. Despite the initial GameCube title selling poorly, the strong reviews definitely sat with Nintendo as a sequel was very quickly put into production for Nintendo’s extremely successful Nintendo DS console.

Let me know what you think about this new series, as well as your thoughts on Chibi-Robo, now that this lesson is over. I hope you took lots of notes!

Join me next time for part two of the history of Chibi-Robo where we will tackle the strangely marketed DS sequel and it’s Japan-exclusive follow up.

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Cubed3: C3 Exclusive Interview | Skip, Ltd Talks Nintendo, Chibi-Robo DS, GiFTPiA & More!, 22nd July 2006. (retrieved on 16/11/2015)

Cubed3: Nintendo News | Chibi-Robo Set to Clean Up Europe, 28th February 2006. (retrieved on 16/11/2015)

East, T. (17th, February, 2009). “Nintendo Feature: 100 Best Nintendo Games: Part One”.Official Nintendo Magazine. (Retrieved 05/12/2013)

Eurogamer: Chibi-Robo!15th March 2006. (retrieved on 16/11/2015)

Famitsu: 週刊ファミ通7月1日号新作ゲームクロスレビューより, 17th June 2005. (retrieved on 16/11/2015)

Gamasutra: Japanese Charts: Sega’s Infinite Space Topples Kingdom Hearts DS, June 19 2009. (retrieved on 16/11/2015)

Game Informer: Chibi-Robo14th June 2006. (retrieved on 16/11/2015)

Hoffman, C. (March 2006). “Breaking the Mold: Chibi-Robo“. Nintendo Power, Redmond Washington: Nintendo of America) (201)

IGN: Chibi-Robo17th April 2003. (retrieved on 16/11/2015)

IGN: Chibi-Robo Confirmed For America, 3 November 2005. (retrieved on 16/11/2015)

IGN: Chibi-Robo Detailed, 8th April 2009. (retrieved on 16/11/2015)

IGN: Chibi-Robo in Limbo19th February 2004. (retrieved on 16/11/2015)

IGN: E3 2005: Chibi-Robo, 20th May 2005. (retrieved on 16/11/2015)

IGN: Nintendo Supports Cube29th November 2004. (retrieved on 16/11/2015)

IGN: Nintendo Picks Up Chibi Robo, 29th October 2004. (retrieved on 16/11/2015)

IGN: Presenting The “Play it on Wii Selection”, 2nd October 2008. (retrieved on 16/11/2015)

Unseen64: Chibi Robo [Bandai Beta Version – Gamecube], 4th September 2008 (retrieved on 16/11/2015)

VGchartz: Chibi-Robo! Plug into Adventure!. (retrieved on 16/11/2015)

  1. I haven’t played any of the Chibi-Robo games except for Zip-Lash because after thinking about Zip-Lash being his last game or not, I decided to try it out and overall, I enjoyed it except for the pacing and roulette wheel. I kinda wish I’d try out the first game since I’ve heard how much about the first game and its story recently. Only time will tell if there will be another game in the works as pushing Chibi into a plaformer was a questionable decision. Fans liked the original Chibi for what it was, just look at the transition of the Paper Mario games, but that should be a different story for another time. Good read.

    Chris .W on November 17 |
    • I’m the same as you. Doing all the research for this makes me really hope Nintendo decides to re-release this game in some day on the eshop. For now i’ll settle with playing through Park patrol which was a lot easier to get :D.

      But i’m glad you liked the article! Look forward to the next part next week 😉

      Nantendo on November 17 |
  2. Awesome idea to cover these series in-depth. Hope you get to Advance Wars sometime down the line (Or better yet I hope Intelligent systems gets to another Advance Wars game!)

    DonkaFjord on November 17 |
  3. Chibi-Robo deserve to be in Smash!
    I already voted for him!

    Shideravan on November 17 |
  4. I only played the first game in the series, and despite its flaws, it was a charming game that really left a lasting impression. As mentioned in the article, I was also impressed with the subject matter it touched upon such as divorce, although the end was rather anticlimactic (don’t want to spoil the details though).

    I recall hearing that Zip-Lash was planned to potentially be the last game in the series, unless it managed to sell well enough. Given that said game received not-so-favorable reviews and seems to have already fallen off the radar, I don’t think the future is too bright for our robot buddy. Which is unfortunate, because Chibi-Robo is a great character, and would have been a fun addition to Smash Bros as well.

    JM on November 17 |
    • “Not-so-favorable reviews?” What’s wrong with Zip-Lash? I think it’s great. 🙁

      Winturwulf (@winturwulf) on November 18 |
      • I wasn’t saying it’s a bad game (haven’t played it yet so I have no opinion), but it has a Metacritic average of 60. While it’s not the worst score ever, it’s unfortunately not great either.

        here’s a link!-zip-lash

        JM on November 18 |
  5. I love learning about gaming history… unfortunately, the only Chibi-Robo games I’ve played are Zip Lash and the demo for the other 3DS one (I forgot the name, but it’s the one where you take pictures of stuff.) The original Chibi-Robo sounds very interesting… I’d like to try it sometime.

    Can’t wait to see what game/series you tackle next. ^_^

    Winturwulf (@winturwulf) on November 17 |
  6. This was entertaining read. I’ll be looking forward to more of these. 😀

    I knew about most of these from Wikipedia, but the reading this is much better than the impersonal tone there.

    Falkoopa on November 19 |