By Josh Speer / October 14th, 2015
Like in the standard levels, you’ll constantly be losing Watts as you play vehicle levels, but at a much brisker pace. While you can collect batteries to temporarily boost your Watts, the vehicle levels also introduce unique twists to deal with. In Skateboard levels, you’ll be able to whip certain fixtures to boost yourself forward, in Submarine levels you can fire torpedoes, and Boat levels have challenging ramps to fly from. While most of these are fine, there’s one variety I hate — the Balloon levels. In these, you are constantly floating forward slowly, and by swinging back and forth you will slowly descend, which is used to collect items. Unfortunately, a couple of issues complicate these sections. First, you only have 3 balloons conveying you through the level. If these are hit by any hazard, they will pop one by one. If all 3 pop, you’ll fall to your death. When you combine this with the fact that you are losing Watts quickly, enemies are everywhere and any contact with enemies will lower your Watts, it becomes a real mess. I would often find myself frantically swinging to descend, and getting hit by an enemy in the process. Or getting to the end of the level, and having my last balloon popped, forcing me to start all over. These issues are far less problematic in the other vehicle levels, where the only way you’ll typically die is falling into a hole after missing an obvious jump.
However, while the vehicle portions were perhaps the weakest overall, the boss fights in Zip Lash are all fantastic.
There are 6 worlds in Zip Lash, and each culminates in a tremendous boss fight. These only open up after you have beaten all 6 levels in a world. While I was uncertain about how fun these would be, I was quickly impressed with the variety and polish of these fights. Each and every boss looks and fights differently, like Robo-Roo who tries to jump and crush you and Kobombra who you have to hurl bombs at, for example. Better yet, all of the bosses look incredible, and are by far the visual highlights of the game. With the exception of the very first boss, none of these are cakewalks either, and force you to think creatively and react quickly. Each fight is composed of multiple sections, and the bosses will acquire nasty new tricks. If you’re not confident in your ability to beat them, you can use coins to purchase a spare battery or jet pack before these fights, but this is mostly for younger gamers.
Aesthetically speaking, Zip Lash is a bit of a mixed bag. While I enjoy the visuals overall, they are not consistently impressive. Though the enemy and boss designs are fine, the backgrounds are oftentimes pretty sparse. Luckily, this is improved by turning on the 3D, which makes the whole game pop nicely. And although I’m not knocking any points for this, I was disappointed that the textures in the game weren’t as incredible as they were in Photo Finder. The times when the graphics were most impressive were in boss fights and those rare moments where you can whip something in the background to travel to new areas. On the audio side of things, your appreciation of the game depends on whether or not you like relaxed tunes. While none of the songs in the game were terrible, they weren’t particularly catchy tunes either, with a couple of exceptions. The vehicle stages actually had the most exciting music in the game, and the boss fights also had really great tunes. The sound effects were actually spectacular, and each was distinct and immediately conveyed what is happening to the player.
While I was mostly very pleased with the game overall, there were a couple of minor missteps worth mentioning. First up is the Destination Wheel. After each level, you will have to spin a wheel, and depending on the number you get, you’ll move a corresponding number of spaces on the map. Pictured above is the equally silly Boss Destination wheel, which is a guaranteed chance to fight the boss. For regular levels, though, this essentially means you can play the levels in any order. That might sound cool, but it also means you can potentially land on a level you’ve already beaten. This can be avoided by using coins to purchase specific number tiles to put on the wheel. Though this isn’t that necessary, it is mind boggling they chose such an odd mechanism when all they needed was linear level progression. I mean, if they wanted to do something like this, they should have made Zip Lash a Metroidvania (which would have been AMAZING).
Other odd features of the game are the Snacks and Baby Aliens. As you play through the game, you will gradually fill up the completion percentage. Whenever I see this sort of feature, I see it as a challenge, and oftentimes a cue that hidden content will be unlocked by getting to or past 100%. Which is odd that, in Zip Lash, there are two collectibles that have absolutely no bearing on that percentage. First up are the Snacks. Though you do get a badge for collecting all of them in a given level, it doesn’t affect your score. What it does affect, however, is the hunger of a group of lost toys. By going into a Warp that will randomly appear on the world map, you will make your way to one of these greedy fellows, who asks for the Snacks you find. Upon treating them to a nibble, you are rewarded with the history of that snack and a handful of coins. Though I’ve seen complaints that this is just blatant product placement, and while there is some truth to that, I find it just a reflection of the weird nature of all Chibi-Robo games. It’s especially forgivable since none of these Snack quests are at all required.
The Baby Aliens seem to be in the game primarily to add replay value. Like the Snacks, these don’t count towards your percentage completion. More curious still, you can’t find them until after you have beaten a stage once. By playing through the level a second time, you will find these Baby Aliens. Your job is to grab them and take them to an odd alien totem pole area. There, by swinging them above your head, you will summon a UFO, and can return them by hurling them bodily at it. In exchange, you will be able to head to the Miiverse and get codes to unlock costumes for Chibi. Though it’s a cute feature, I would much rather have finding all these Alien tots unlock a hidden world or two. Then again, the reason for these features being available but not required was probably so the game could cater to expert and novice gamers alike, much like the inclusion of the amiibo functionality. Maybe a hard mode would be the best option, assuming Zip Lash gets a sequel.
In the end, I was very pleased with Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash. It took me about 9 hours to beat it, and that’s without having found all the Badges and Alien Babies. The replay value will mostly depend on your willingness to find a bunch of things that have no bearing on the completion of the game. I wasn’t sure how it would translate to a platformer, but I feel Chibi did so successfully, albeit with a couple of missteps. Most importantly, I find most if not all of the complaints I saw leveled at the game without merit. It is a fun, challenging and occasionally frustrating game. Considering it’s a totally new genre for this environment friendly robot, I was really impressed with the whole thing. It’s not the best platformer I’ve ever played, but it is by far my favorite game in the Chibi-Robo series. Here’s hoping it did well enough to keep seeing Chibi in strange adventures far into the future.
Review Copy purchased by author. Standard game costs $29.99, amiibo Bundle is $39.99.
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