Say what you will about the lack of GameCube support as the world prepares for the launch of the Revolution, the upside is that Nintendo is finally bringing some of its quirkier Japanese titles to the West in a bid to fill up the console's rapidly diminishing release schedule - games that ordinarily wouldn't see the light of day over here.
Chibi-Robo is one such title, consisting of part platformer, part dysfunctional family adventure and part cleaning sim. As bizarre as all that might sound, it's testament to developer Skip's design prowess that Chibi-Robo emerges as one of the most refreshing, downright charming games we've had the pleasure of playing in some time.
It's all relatively straightforward - if off-the-wall - in terms of set-up. You take control of three-inch-high Chibi-Robo, a miniscule household robot tasked with cleaning up your family's neglected home and keeping its increasing fraught inhabitants happy. From the outset, you're equipped with a slender, if handy, selection of robotic attachments designed to help make your daily chores easier - including the Chibi-Copter to traverse small gaps and the toothbrush for cleaning up unsightly stains.
As the game progresses, you'll find more useful upgrades, like the Chibi-Blaster for blowing new routes around your environment, or taking down mechanical menaces the Spydorz. There's even a whole wardrobe of new costumes that let you interact with new inhabitants when you don them - including the frog and dog suit.
LIVING THE LOW-LIFE
At its heart, Chibi-Robo is a tightly woven platform adventure. Being a mere three inches high, everything in your home presents new obstacles to overcome - and finding out ways to climb stairs or scale a bookcase to pocket out-of-reach objects is where the meat of the action lies. However, progress can be slow as many areas are insurmountable without acquiring the aforementioned new attachments.
All your equipment can be bought at the Chibi-PC, back at your base. However, you'll need a healthy collection of Moolah to fork out for upgrades. This can be earned by performing tasks set by the household inhabitants - and range from slinging rubbish in the bin to locating certain objects around the home. The twist is that these activities can only be completed at certain times of the day, meaning you'll have to do some careful planning to achieve your goals in the time limit.
During the day (lasting approximately five minutes, although you can ramp this up to fifteen if you buy the appropriate item from the shop), you'll have to contend with your human owners, whose life is in disarray thanks to an ever-increasing rift between mum and dad. With dad consigned to the sofa at night and the family's little girl so scarred by her parents' bickering, she refuses to talk in anything but frog-speak, it's ultimately up to you to bring some harmony back into the home.
Meanwhile, things are more sinister at night when the toys in the house come alive. Everyone from the abandoned Giga-Robo in the basement and the hard-boiled platoon of eggs waging a war against Toa, the pet dog, have their own tale to tell and need your help. As it's back to the Chibi-House at the end of every cycle, you'll need to move sharpish to complete everything asked of you and earn that Moolah.
SOCKET TO 'EM
Even more problematic is your constant need to recharge your batteries - every movement you perform will drain your energy a little. You'll need to stick your ever-present plug into a nearby socket at regular intervals if you don't want to fizzle out and return to base, minus some of your hard-earned cash. On the upside, you can boost your battery by collecting Happy Points and pushing your way up the ranks of Chibi-Robo across the in-game world.