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Chibi-Robo Park Patrol

Please keep off the grass - tiny robotic gardener at work

Japan Import: On GameCube he's the little robot who selflessly trudges between power sockets to help a family with just about everything that's troubling them. On DS his duties are altogether more specialised, but Chibi Robo still has a heart of gold and a limited battery life.

Instead of being confined to a household, this Chibi - one of thousands rolling off a production line in the opening scene - is trained in the art of gardening and deposited on the edge of a deserted and somewhat run-down city park. With nothing but his tiny hands and enough electricity to get him halfway across the ornamental border of a flowerbed, little Chibi sets about turning his new territory into somewhere people might like to visit.

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Green fingered robot
The first thing to do is restore some greenery to the expanse of brown and yellow emptiness. Playing music to the few flowers that grow there makes them spit out happy seeds that will hopefully bury themselves in fertile ground. Watering those seeds creates new flowers, and by the time a decent clump of them has built up, there will be seeds flying all over the place every time the music plays. When each muddy flowerbed has enough plants growing, it turns green and you get a congratulatory tune.

Only a tiny part of the park can be explored at first, because the bridge leading over to the rest is broken. Little Chibi can't repair it on his own, so a trip into the nearby high street is necessary in order to recruit friends with a little more muscle power. By donating some juice to the unwanted toys found discarded in bins behind the shops, Chibi builds a group of helpers.

While the direct maintenance of the park is done by Chibi himself, major building projects are tackled by the toys. Simply select the item you want to place on the park construction screen and bribe the helpers with electricity. The more helpers you have, the more items you can add to the park in a single go.

But building is expensive and the park needs a lot of work before the closer areas are pleasing to the eye, let alone the bits in the far-off corners. A typical day in the game, which lasts about 10 minutes or so, is therefore spent greening up those flowerbeds and harvesting excess blooms for sale at the flower shop.

As Chibi's energy tank grows bigger, it's possible to stay away from the base for longer, and after a while you'll be able to place windmills at strategic points to give a handy boost of power. Getting caught out in the middle of the park without enough energy left to make it home is a depressing moment, particularly because you'll lose all the hearts you've gathered since your last save.

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Hearts are the basic currency of the game, and the more good deeds you do, the more you'll get. They can be saved up or converted into electricity. However, not everything in Chibi's world is so happy - there's a kind of alien superhero figure who drains toys of their power and generates horrible creatures that turn the park's flowers black. He pops up practically every day, although we're not quite sure why.

The game is controlled by the D-pad and touch screen - a cramp-inducing combination in many titles, but its slow pace and easy-going nature make Park Patrol better suited than most to the system. The touch screen has icons down each side, for accessing the inventory and moving the camera, plus a large central area that usually functions as a big button with 'touch here' written on it. When you've got a tool out, there's some sort of simple action required to activate it. Riding the Chibi-cycle calls for constant spinning with the stylus to make the pedals turn, which is a bit fiddly. Our bike fell to pieces after a while and we had to get a new one which we're too scared to use in case it breaks as well.

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