July 23, 2007

It’s hardly a surprise that the theatrical release of Disney/Pixar’s latest CG wonder Ratatouille is met day and date with video game adaptations for nearly every platform imaginable. Equally unsurprising is that the bulk of these titles seem designed for a market that does not exist, or at the very least is decidedly niche: players young enough to appreciate the source material but old enough not to become easily frustrated by the title’s unforgiving gameplay.

Developed at THQ’s wholly owned Heavy Iron Studios, Ratatouille follows the platforming exploits of Remy, a young rat who dreams about becoming a great French chef. Given the quality of other similarly tepid releases from Heavy Iron, it’s not so much shocking that Ratatouille fails to impress as it is disappointing. Given the variety of situations and locations made possible in a game seen through the eyes of a rat, the developers have instead turned out yet another run of the mill adventure that will do little to save players from the icon-collecting doldrums brought on by countless similar creations.

While the main game may come off as largely forgettable, Ratatouille does feature a healthy selection of mini-games, both available from the onset and unlocked through play, and some of these offer a measure of fun not found elsewhere in the title, though with only a handful from which to choose, the question of value still lingers heavy in the air like the musty odor of overripe cheese that not even Remy’s brother Emile would find appetizing for long.

Something to keep in mind when playing Ratatouille is that it is based on a movie property which is itself aimed at the younger set. That being the case, the game should feature mechanics that keep those players in mind, or at the very least include an easier game mode designed to help players with fewer years behind them, who might even be grappling with their emerging gamer instincts for the first time with this very game.

Ratatouille includes none of this, and I dare say that most children will look to the nearest adult for help even before the mandatory tutorial mission has been completed, while later levels, areas, and challenges will likely prove nigh unplayable for the game’s presumed target audience.

Interestingly, in this respect, the Wii version manages to stand out from its peers, at least initially, offering more intuitive and forgiving controls than those on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, or GameCube. But this relief is short lived, as even this version eventually slips into the same routine of aggravation exhibited by its counterparts.

It cannot even be viably argued that the title is instead aimed at tweens or young adults, as beyond the frustrating platforming, odd camera angles, and aggravating missions lies an experience that simply isn’t all that fun. It’s not that Ratatouille is broken, but rather that, like so many other movie-to-game translations, it rides too closely upon the coat tails of its source material, recreating various scenes and events from the movie in the context of an interactive experience. But when that experience itself isn’t entertaining without its theatrical crutch, what’s the point? Heavy Iron fell into a similar pitfall with The Incredibles, and it’s unfortunate that here again more is not done with the license.

And that, in a nutshell, is my problem with Ratatouille. Besides some questionable design, the biggest shortcoming is that it simply does not do enough with what for all intents and purposes should be a compelling vehicle for a fun game. The potential is there, but for whatever reason, be it budget, time, or a mixture of both, the end product simply does not deliver, regardless of how expertly the actors may deliver their lines, or how cute Remy looks scampering about in the kitchen. Ratatouille may be a great movie, but as a game it’s just not worth the effort.

Well it has been a long, strange journey for [i]The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess[/i] for the Gamecube. When the first screens of a new Zelda game were shown when the Gamecube was announced, fanboys around the world cried in joy. However those cries of joy became shameful attacks towards Nintendo when [i]Wind Waker[/i] was shown to the public. Even though the game still played just like a Zelda game, some gamers wrote [i]Wind Waker[/i] off just because of the cartoon visuals. Nintendo decided to appease the masses by announcing a new Zelda game, [i]Twilight Princess[/i], which was similar to the original footage shown when the Gamecube was announced.

Even back at E3 2005 Nintendo was letting gamers play a demo of this new Zelda. I was fortunate enough to play the demo at E3, and I was amazed at how incredible the game was turning out to be. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game and immediately paid off the game in full when I returned home from E3. But I had to wait and wait and wait until late in 2006 before the game was finally released for the Gamecube. It seems that Nintendo wasn’t done baking [i]Twilight Princess[/i], in fact the game shifted over to a new console, which we all know as the Wii. I’m happy to report that even with all of the waiting (and playing second fiddle to the Wii version) Gamecube owners are treated to one of the best Zelda games ever released.

By now I’m sure most of you are aware of the basic plot of [i]Twilight Princess[/i]. The game centers upon you (aka Link) and your journey to save Hyrule from the grips of evil. Sure, Princess Zelda is involved, and the game does focus on saving the Princess, but the main plot centers on saving Hyrule. Parts of the kingdom have been plummeted into darkness, the Twilight, and it’s up to you to release Hyrule from the darkness. Along the way you will meet up with Midna, a strange and obnoxious character who helps you after you’ve changed into a wolf. The Twilight has a strange effect on all of the inhabitants of Hyrule, and the strangest effect is turning you into the wolf. The rest of the plot/story will remain left to you to discover because this game has hours upon hours of gameplay ready for you. I would say you will need at least forty hours of gameplay to get close to finishing the game.

I know, 40 hours of gameplay might seem like much especially to other AAA titles that let you off the hook after 20 hours. But those 40 plus hours will have you playing through some of the most gripping gameplay included in a videogame. The dungeons in this game are probably the most expansive I’ve ever played in any Zelda game. The same premise of previous Zelda games is followed, (find keys, beat mini boss, find boss key, beat boss) but all of the dungeons will have you sucked in trying to find all of the secrets and solve the puzzles. Besides the dungeons the scale of the entire game is truly massive and will leave some of you speechless. Almost all of the locations you find and explore in the game are truly epic in size. Just exploring the entire world could take several (twenty or thirty) minutes, but thankfully you do unlock warp points as you progress in the game. So no, you don’t have to spend ten minutes boating to the next town or dungeon.

The gameplay in [i]Twilight Princess[/i] is still a classic example of 3D gameplay done right, but I need to address a few items. The first item is to say that this game still plays just like [i]Wind Waker[/i] and Ocarina of Time (released as a collectors pack on GC). The same lock-on targeting system is in place that we love, and most of the standard items from previous titles are included as well (boomerang and bow & arrows just to name two). Even when you do play as the wolf the combat can still be played with the lock-on targeting to help you. There are a few differences in searching for items as the wolf but the combat, surprisingly, still “feels” the same. With the combat being identical to the previous titles, you still get a few clunky moments with the camera angle. At certain points in combat the camera angle gets funky and has a hard time locking on to a good angle to view the action. It happens out in the field fighting, and it happens in the dungeons, especially when you’re fighting multiple characters. You can quickly adjust the camera, but these moments have been happening for years now, and it was surprising to see them show up again in [i]Twilight Princess[/i].

Another issue to discuss is the differences between the Wii version and the Gamecube version (come on, I know some of you want to know). The big difference that you will see immediately (at the title screen) is the layout of the Gamecube version. The Wii and Gamecube version are opposite of each other. If the Wii version has something on the right side of a stage, then the Gamecube version will have it on the left side. I spent a ton of hours on the Wii version, and the layout change to the Gamecube version is still disorienting at times.

Another difference between the two versions is, of course, the controls. Obviously the Gamecube seems limited when controlling Link since you’re not using the motion activated Wiimote. But Nintendo didn’t just limit the Gamecube controls with no motion sensor technology; the game is limited in the number of open item slots. The Wii version lets you place four items in the Action Icon holder while the Gamecube only supports two items. Using ranged weapons, such as the bow & arrow and slingshot are a little more time consuming with the Gamecube version. I had more of a dependency with the lock-on system when using range weapons in the Gamecube version. But the GC version does win regarding one difference, free camera control. You can use the C stick to move the camera angle at any time while the Wii version has the camera locked.

Graphically this is one of the best looking Zelda games ever released. It definitely won’t win any awards for best graphics, but the game is gorgeous in its own way. All of the dungeons are exquisitely detailed with attention to everything. Patterns in the ceiling, paintings on walls, enormous structural features such as columns and arches are littered throughout the game. The only bland portions of the graphics I could find were the textures used in rocks and grass when viewed up close. Not pretty by any means. As far as looking different from the Wii version, I didn’t notice any differences. I played the GC version on the Wii and on the Gamecube. Since my official Nintendo component cables haven’t arrived yet for the Wii, I do think the game looked just a little clearer on the Gamecube (with the official Nintendo component cables). But that could be a cable issue and not an actual difference between the two systems. There wasn’t any special effect or graphic features found in the Wii version that are not in the Gamecube version.

Well in the end [i]Twilight Princess[/i] is another classic title from the folks at Nintendo. The game is an epic that will have you clutching your Gamecube controller saying “just a little more” as you keep playing to the point of exhaustion. The graphics are top notch, the gameplay is still incredibly engaging, (even without the Wii controls) and the puzzles/secrets will keep you busy for hours. Sure there are some issues, such as the goofy camera angle issues, but those are minor and shouldn’t convince you to not play this game. If this is supposed to be the swan song of the Gamecube, then you better not miss out on this game.

One of the few exclusive, original RPGs available to the GameCube, [i]Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean[/i] brought several unique features to the genre. Most noticeably is its card (“magnus”) based inventory and combat systems, as well as a plot twist or two that had not yet been beaten into the ground by its predecessors. Though the “islands in the sky” setting reminded me very much of Sega’s Skies of Arcadia (Legends) at first, the game’s unique charms and decent plotline let it eventually stand on its own merits. [i]Baten Kaitos Origins[/i], as you might have guessed by the title, serves as a prequel to [i]EWatLO[/i], set twenty years before the events chronicled in the original. [i]BKO[/i] corrects several nagging problems that plagued its ancestor (descendant? stupid prequels…) while sadly retaining a couple, but it at least brings forth some fresh ideas of its own as well.

The game’s plotline centers around Sagi, a fifteen year-old employed in the Dark Service, a special branch of the Alfard Empire’s military. The Dark Service use semi-autonomous devices called paramachina to aid them in combat; Sagi’s “paramachina” is actually a sentient, magic-wielding puppet named Guillo, who has been Sagi’s companion ever since he unearthed it (Guillo’s gender, if any, is never defined) at a young age. Sagi is also what is called a spiriter, meaning his heart has bonded with that of a spirit — in this case, that means you, the guy (unlike [i]EWatLO[/i], you do not get to input your own gender; its masculinity is part of the narrative this time around) holding the control pad. Spiriters are said to contain the potential to change the world… but so do politicians, and the latter are the main source of conflict once again.

On his first big mission for the Dark Service (assassinating the Emperor, no less!), things go horribly wrong for our heroes and they wind up being blamed for the Emperor’s death even though they were beaten to the punch by someone else, then attacked by a huge monster. After defeating the beast, strange things happen involving some massive headaches, before they finally manage to escape the Emperor’s mansion. They’re still on the run from the Imperial Army, however and just when it looks like they’re about to be captured, a young girl (a couple of years older than Sagi) named Milliarde (“Milly”) makes the scene and helps Sagi and Guillo escape. She then joins you as your third (or fourth, if you want to count the spirit you represent) and final playable character.

From there the plot continues on much like in [i]EWatLO[/i], hopping from island to island as you progress through the roller coaster-like story, twisting and turning in unexpected ways until finally reaching its conclusion. All of the locales from the first title return here, save for the bizarre continent of Mira (currently “phased out”, as it does every few years, although there is one town in [i]BKO[/i] that would be right at home there) and the spoiler-ish continent of Wazn; in their place are the thorny island of Hasseleh and the Coliseum, plus an occasional minor area. Oh, there’s also a strange, somewhat familiar second world that Sagi and company find themselves in — but not quite a part of — at certain times for reasons that don’t become apparent until well into the game’s second disc. The shifting storyline will both provide new insight into the plot of [i]EWatLO[/i] as well as turn a few aspects of that story on their ears, all while giving you a look at the previous generation of this series’ world. If you remember the ages of several characters (mostly NPCs, with a couple of exceptions) from the first title, then you should be on the lookout for their younger selves as you play through [i]BKO[/i] — you won’t be disappointed.

Graphically, this game is identical to [i]EWatLO[/i], which while not a bad thing (the first game was very pretty), is meant literally in many respects. All of the major game locations use the exact same gorgeously pre-rendered backgrounds that the first title used for them (and the corresponding BGM as well!); while this was a great nod to continuity and something of an advantage/Easter egg to those who had played the first title, it really stunk of laziness at times, as the designers only needed to come up with a handful of new settings. It also invites the same problem I had with [i]EWatLO[/i], namely that the backgrounds are completely static, resulting in your character scaling as you progress further away from the camera (Sadaal Suud’s main town of Pherkad is a great/horrible example of why this doesn’t work in an RPG). Additionally, the detailed backgrounds make locating NPCs difficult, as the character models don’t really stand out too well (and may suffer from scaling as well), and there’s no on-screen indicator that you can talk to one of them, unlike the “!” balloon indicating an object you can examine. Many of the palette-swapped enemies are also recycled from the previous game, but that’s been an RPG tradition dating back to Dragon Warrior/Quest, so it can slide. At least the characters are well-designed and unique, just as the Kalas, Xelha, Gibari, Lyude, Savyna, and (The Great) Mizuti were in the original; it could be argued that the three playable characters in [i]BKO[/i] are just amalgamations of the six from [i]EWatLO[/i] (Sagi = Lyude + Kalas, Guillo = Mizuti + Gibari, and Milly = Xelha + Savyna), but that doesn’t make them any less solid. The animations sometimes seem stiff and robotic, especially during cut scenes (which use the in-game models, like most GameCube titles), but it’s not a large issue. The special attacks are as eye-popping as usual, although there’s a good chance that you will be too busy selecting cards to even see them initially.

Where [i]BKO[/i] really departs from [i]EWatLO[/i] is in its combat system. While still card-based, the system has received a complete overhaul and will need to be relearned by series veterans; fortunately, I think [i]BKO[/i]’s system is superior. Instead of each character having their own deck, filled with weapons, special finishers, and items, this time around the entire party shares one deck, containing both generic attacks and items along with individualized specials and equipment. You can save multiple decks and swap between them as you see fit (outside of battles, naturally), allowing you to adjust your strategy to your surroundings much more readily. Also, while [i]BKO[/i] retains the use of “spirit numbers”, no card ever has more than one number on it; as a result, you no longer receive bonuses for setting up X of a kind and/or ascending/descending straights. Numbers in [i]BKO[/i] can only increase numerically, starting from 1 or 0 (all 0’s are equipment that modify your attacks/defense) and reaching a maximum number of 6 or 7, depending on the character. All numbers from 1-3 (minus four special cards that only Milly can use) are your generic attacks, in increasing potency as they increase in number; numbers 4-7 are super-powered special attacks that demand a certain amount of MP to use. MP is built up simply by playing cards, so the longer you can make your chains, the more MP you build up, to a maximum level of five. Also, if one character is ready to receive commands immediately after the previous character ended with a special, you may chain the character’s attacks together with a weak (#1) attack to create a Relay Combo and jack up the amount of Technique Points (used to upgrade your deck class) earned from the battle; equipment marked with an R may also be thrown in before the follow-up weak attack without breaking the Relay. Items and strategies (like Escape) do not have spirit numbers and cannot be used in any part of a combo. There is no reshuffling, as used and discarded cards are simply placed back into the deck immediately, eliminating the breaks in action from the first game. Finally, there is no longer a defensive portion of combat — if you have a defensive item equipped, it will soften the enemies’ blows for a set number of hits/time without you needing to do anything.

All of that looks a lot more complicated than it is in practice, especially since the game highlights which cards are legal to play next as you select each one (including specially-indicating which ones can enable a Relay). Also, your guardian spirit may help you out from time to time by placing the exact card(s) you need on top of your deck, allowing you much smoother “draws” and more devastating combos. This is especially true once you gain access to the “MP Burst” ability, which can turn your maxed-out MP meter into an infinite resource for a limited time, allowing you to potentially chain together up to 25 cards for a spectacular beatdown; my record was 23 cards, to the tune of 50 hits and a massive 20,994 points of damage to a group of 3 enemies — and yes, the game keeps track of your longest combo to date, along with a few other statistics.

Other than the combat, the other major advantage [i]BKO[/i] has over the original game is that the voice acting — or more accurately, the recording of that VA — in [i]BKO[/i] doesn’t suck. One of the first things most players did during [i]EWatLO[/i] was to turn off the voices in the cut scenes (you were stuck with the in-battle sound clips either way) because of a horrible echoing that slipped through quality control and made the voices painful to hear. [i]BKO[/i] does not have this problem, and the actors perform well enough to be enjoyable this time around (although they do start out a bit wooden). There’s still a noticeable hiccup when the dialogue is supposed to reference you (Sagi’s guardian spirit) by whatever name you entered, but that’s the nature of the beast. As for the rest of the game’s sound, the score is just as good as ever (of course, as I mentioned, in some cases that’s because it’s the same track), and the sound effects more than get the job done.

One major aspect of the original that has also been tweaked for [i]BKO[/i] is how you create new magnus. In the last game, you needed to include bizarre, often useless magnus in your decks and use them in a specific sequence in order to obtain certain items; this was a needless chore that has been more conveniently divided into two separate functions in [i]BKO[/i]. Your equipment magnus can be upgraded at various shops if you have the proper Quest Magnus, and you can mix certain Quest Magnus together once you acquire an item called a “Magnus Mixer,” which will combine their essences while you battle without taking up valuable deck slots. Of course, your Quest Magnus can and will still change over time and may even be affected by neighboring Magnus in your inventory, but I don’t believe any of your Battle Magnus are affected this time around. Finally, don’t worry about having to use any stupid cameras to earn cash; enemies in [i]BKO[/i] drop money just like in any other RPG, and there are even a ton of “Magnus Pack Coupons” to be found that can be redeemed for ten random Battle Magnus at any store.

The loss of Mira means that [i]BKO[/i] doesn’t have the surprising variety in “dungeon” areas that [i]EWatLO[/i] eventually brought forth, and the re-treading of old stomping grounds might actually cause veteran BK fans to feel like there isn’t as much newness to be found in this title. This is largely superficial, as a lot of this feeling is rooted in this game’s being a true sequel/prequel to the previous title and not just a game having similar mechanics and the franchise name with a new number slapped on the end. After players have grown used to the new combat system, the top complaint is usually that the enemies in [i]BKO[/i] hit a [b]lot[/b] harder than in the previous game, which is the by-product of the revamped equipment system and the fact that you never need to heal outside of combat; your party is automatically restored to full health and status after every encounter (except for a few gauntlet-style fights) without demanding any consumable items from your inventory.

Unfortunately, there are other, more serious problems lurking within [i]BKO[/i]’s coding. Obscure glitches that slipped past testing can result in you being shut-out of certain sidequests if you accidentally trigger them (this is why I was unable to become Champion of the Coliseum, for instance); some sidequests seem impossible to complete even once you do receive them, and many require an insane amount of backtracking and errand-running, which is not a good thing when travel is just as slow as it was in [i]EWatLO[/i]. The new “wing dash” feature helps a little, but not much, as exceeding your time limit results in you moving slower than your normal walking pace until you recover. The wing dash is also a source of great frustration in the final dungeon of the game, as finicky controls will cause you to fall victim to a stupid trap more times than any competent player should normally.

Perhaps the most devastating problem with the game, however, is a [b]very[/b] difficult boss battle that hits [b]immediately[/b] after switching to Disc 2; because the game forces you to save before switching discs, you might find yourself trapped in a no-win situation if you save over your file unprepared. Be aware of this and save to a different slot when you make it to this point, in case you feel the need to level up some more. I took the thing down on my fourth try after radically altering my deck-building strategy, but I never avoided combats at any point and made sure to upgrade my deck class regularly. There was only one point in the game where I felt I needed to level up before taking on a boss, and it came at a point where I had several other missions to complete anyway, so I just made that one the last on my “to do” list.

Overall, [i]Baten Kaitos Origins[/i] is a worthy successor to [i]Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean[/i] in just about every respect, while also standing on its own fairly well. Unlike the [i]Star Wars[/i] movies, I believe that this is a prequel that may actually benefit from being experienced [i]before[/i] the original rather than giving away all of its secrets in advance. It means taking some “downgrades” if you want to continue the story, but both plotlines are independent enough that playing through them in either order will feel “right”, with the references made in [i]BKO[/i] being treated as foreshadowing instead.

[i]Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy[/i] ([i]LSW2[/i]) is a difficult game to review. I keep finding myself trying to reconcile my need for well-designed, challenging problems with my appreciation for simplistic gameplay and Just Dumb Fun; my mature gaming tastes are both at odds with and acting in concert with my childish glee. It’s as if I’m trapped between two worlds — somewhat fitting for this “your-chocolate-in-my-peanut butter” sequel, which is every bit as bipolar as its predecessor.

At its core, [i]LSW2[/i] is a basic platformer with strong collect-a-thon elements for you obsessive types. You proceed through the three episodes in the original Star Wars trilogy, each comprised of six sub-chapters, collecting Lego studs (the game’s currency) and blasting pretty much everything that moves and, to be honest, just about anything else you feel like blasting as well. There’s no real strategy to it; it’s barely even beyond base button-mashing at times. Occasionally you’ll have to stop and figure out how to bypass an obstacle, but generally the answer is lying in a nearby heap of Lego bricks waiting for you to assemble them into a platform, cannon, or what-have-you — and if you don’t see a heap, then you probably have to make one by blasting stuff. If you’re not concerned with acquiring True Jedi Status (by collecting a set number of studs per chapter), then you have all the time in the world to experiment and muddle your way through somehow, as you can respawn indefinitely without caring that you probably lose a couple thousand studs each time. There is literally no pressure and frankly not too much challenge either.

With that being said, I don’t want to meet the kind of gamer who is unable to enjoy this game. If you can honestly say that you’ve played through a couple of levels of either this game or the previous [i]LSW[/i] and didn’t have a smile on your face as you gleefully (and probably systematically) dismantled every wall, barrel, console, and enemy with repeated application of a plastic lightsaber, then you’ve lost all sense of your childhood (or possibly never had one to speak of). This is exactly the same type of gameplay that makes Rampage so popular, and it has a much better presentation and (licensed) storyline than any of the titles in Midway’s Godzilla/King Kong homage.

At the heart of [i]LSW2[/i] is simplicity, much like the plastic building blocks from which the graphics take their unique look. You never need any more than four buttons in Story Mode: jump (some characters can double-jump), attack/defend, switch characters, and build/special; for “Free Play” mode (unlocked for each chapter after you complete it in Story Mode), you also need one or two for changing your current character. Using those simple commands and the unique abilities of each character (class), you have all the tools you need to progress through the game. This is literally gameplay so simple that a child can master it. In fact, with no frustrating limiting factors, this is a great title for less-experienced gamers (both young and old); every mode also offers cooperative play for two players, meaning you can play right beside your child, younger sibling, parent, grandparent, boy/girlfriend, specially-trained monkey… whatever. Why should you hog all the fun for yourself, after all?

In addition to the Free Play modes, there are unlockable bonus levels for each Episode once you complete all six chapters and have enough Gold Bricks. There are also some additional levels that you can unlock as you progress through the game. All those studs you collected can be used to purchase additional characters for Free Play as you encounter them in the game, as well as to buy cheat options (powered-up blasters, invulnerability, mini-kit detectors, etc.) that you unlock by finding each chapter’s red Power Brick — often fiendishly hidden away in the most out-of-the-way locales. You can also mix and match certain character “pieces” to create your own characters for Free Play, either combining various abilities or just creating your own distinctive look. Finally, for the price of 200,000 studs, you can unlock the ability to import your [i]LSW[/i] save file and most of the characters and mini-kits you’ve obtained in the first title (although some characters won’t be carried over due to their inclusion in [i]LSW2[/i]), assuming you played it on the same platform; Xbox360 owners can purchase an equivalent file from the Marketplace, since that system didn’t get [i]LSW[/i].

Visually, the game combines basic plastic bricks with 21st-century gaming technology to both simulate an actual Lego play experience and improve upon it, adding reflections, lighting, facial expressions (Lego Han’s smirk is awesome) and some rudimentary physics to the distinctive blocky construction. In-game cut scenes advance the plot in the finest pantomime traditions (plastic bricks don’t talk, but they do occasionally laugh and otherwise audibly emote) at fairly regular intervals. In the audio department, the usual top-shelf Star Wars score accompanies most scenes, with LucasArts sound effects providing authentic lightsaber swings and blaster shots along with the ever-present explosions.

The game is not perfect, however. The most annoying aspect is the usual bane of 3rd-person platforming titles: the camera. You can pan it a bit to look around, but there is no zoom or free-roaming ability, which can and will be a pain for some jumping puzzles. Additionally, those cut scenes I mentioned are unskippable, so you’ll have to sit through them each time you hit them. Finally, vehicle-based missions like the Rebel Attack on the Death Star (Episode IV, Chapter 6) can be difficult to control, as they moved from being “on rails” in [i]LSW[/i] to more free-range in [i]LSW2[/i]. I would also be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that there have been reports of the game locking up on a couple stages, across all platforms; fortunately, the game’s auto-save feature minimizes the losses caused by these occurrences, but they can still be aggravating if they strike near the end of a long session.

And so I find myself back where I was at the beginning of this review, unsure of how to actually score the game (at least as far as our ratings here at Snackbar Games go). The game’s absolute lack of difficulty means that you’ll probably beat the main Story Mode in the space of a rental, and you could probably unlock everything in an additional day or two if you devoted yourself to it. On the other hand, this is such a feel-good, play-anytime (with anyone) title that it almost deserves a full purchase just to have it in your library. I could go either way on this one, but in the end I think I’ll bump it up to a full purchase; despite the shortcomings, this is a quality title and you should easily get your money’s worth out of it — especially if you play co-op with a friend and/or someone you love.


July 28, 2006

My introduction to [i]Chibi-Robo[/i] was not until well after its release date. I had heard of the title mentioned, but it didn’t make enough of a blip on my radar to garner a pre-release glance. Having logged a very significant amount of time on it I can safely say that it is one of the more quirky games to come out recently and while not as strange as the original Katamari Damacy it definitely gives me the same quirky vibe.

[i]Chibi-Robo[/i] is at its core simply a cleaning game. I know that sounds odd, but it is what you will spend the bulk of your time doing. You, [i]Chibi-Robo[/i], were given to little Jenny Sanderson for her 8th birthday. In addition to being a toy you also help out around the house by cleaning up and doing various other tasks. An evil plot unfolds that pits [i]Chibi-Robo[/i] against the evil Spydoz of Macroware Robotics, Inc. The relatively simple story and concept of this game lend it to being very open ended and quite addictive.

The visuals in [i]Chibi-Robo[/i] are pretty standard fare and there are times where the camera acts up and gets a little irritating. Sound wise the game features quite possibly the most annoying “jibber jabber” for the simulated talking and without a way to skip cutscenes will have you diving for the mute button.

Your time in the game is divided into nights and days. At the end of the night or the day you must return to the Chibi House to recharge and tally up your points. You are also able to do this at any point during your daily adventures. Initially each day and night is only 5 minutes long which makes the time go by very fast. As you collect moolah, the currency in this fictitious place, you will be able to purchase up to 10 or even 15 minute “segments” of gameplay. I prefer the 15 minute days myself. The house is a very different place at night versus day so both times of day serve unique purposes. The more you play, the more of the house you are able to explore.

As the game progresses you will be collecting various things: moolah, happy points, and scrap. Moolah is used to buy upgrades and various tools. Your happy points are awarded for cleaning and accomplishing tasks in the game and are used to rank you on the overall Chibi Ranking list. Achieving a certain rank thrusts you into Super Chibi-Robo which is just an upgraded version of your former self.

In addition to new areas you can upgrade [i]Chibi-Robo[/i] with tools, weapons, and various vehicles. These will all help you accomplish the ultimate goal of keeping your host family, the Sandersons, happy.

I don’t want to reveal too many of the secrets along the way as discovery is part of the reason this game has kept my attention so long. At the end of the day [i]Chibi-Robo[/i] is actually a really fun game for all ages. As I mentioned earlier, the Charlie Brown style jibber jabber will drive you insane, but the talking is only heavy in the early stages of the game or when you initiate it, which you have to do at times. Since [i]Chibi-Robo[/i] is a little quirky and not a sleeper hit quite like Katamari was, I am going to recommend it as a rental first. For me, it’s part of my library for good, but others may not feel the same.