Review: “Chibi-Robo! Clean Sweep”

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The Chibi-Robo series is very quirky and, at times, very Japanese. I’ve played all the games to date and have enjoyed all of them save for “Photo Finder” (my house’s lighting + the 3DS camera = poor gameplay). However, there was one game that eluded me: the Japan-only “Oaeri! Chibi-Robo! Happy Richie Oosouji” or, for a simpler translation, “Chibi-Robo! Clean Sweep.” Thankfully, some dedicated fans took the time to create an English patch so I could play it through an emulator. Yes, I know people aren’t fond of them, but emulating has allowed me to play both this and “Ace Investigations 2” after years of hoping for and not getting a North American release. So, what did I think of this elusive game? Let’s take a look.

Story:

This game, unlike the NA-released “Park Patrol,” is a direct sequel that takes place years after the first Chibi-Robo game, which debuted on the Gamecube. As is the case with all of these games, you play as Chibi-Robo, a tiny robot who performs tasks to make people happy and improve their lives. In this installment, you end up in the household of Jenny, who was a little girl in the first game. Jenny lives with her young son, Keith, and their dog, Lucky, and has been struggling to get by ever since her husband, Karl, died in a tragic accident. Because of her single mom status, her house is a mess and falling apart. Together with his robot partner Telly, Chibi-Robo must clean the place up and help the family out while interacting with a strange cast of characters along the way.

If you’re at all familiar with how weird the Chibi-Robo games can be, this one won’t surprise you. This is a game that has ghosts (literally), toys that come to life like they’re from “Toy Story”, and a few touching family moments mixed in as well. I’ve always found it easy to get invested in these games because they’re so quirky, and “Clean Sweep” was no different. It definitely helps that it continues the story from the first game only so much so that it has its own identity. You could play this game without playing any of the others and still get a feel for what this series is like.

Even though Jenny returns in this, she’s practically a new characters as the responsible, hard-working mom. I liked what they did with her here and Keith wasn’t TOO annoying for a kid character. They also give a decent amount of backstory on Karl and you see first-hand how his absence has affected the family. But one of the major draws of these games is the side characters, and the cast of toys here were a lot of fun. You got a pig who’s a cop called Iberico, a luchador called Habanero, a bathtub shark called Mesa, a guitar-playing tomato called Ketchup, a toucan alarm clock called Acapella, and the egg-like Free Rangers make a return from the first game as well. These characters all have side stories that you can complete as you play through the main story, and I enjoyed them all.

I chalk most of that up to the writing. This series can be pretty witty and this game, even as a fan translation, is no exception. As your source of guidance, Telly could easily come off as boring, but they give him enough of a personality outside of his role to make him stand out. I did notice that Japan is definitely looser with their language, though. There is the occasional light swear here and there, which is funny considering how a game like this would have some minor censoring if it came over to our shores. It’s kinda refreshing to see how frank they are around younger players over there. Anyway, story-wise, this game had all the usual Chibi-Robo charm.

Graphics:

Given that this isn’t Chibi-Robo’s first rodeo on the DS, the graphics here are surprisingly good. While the Gamecube version definitely has an upper leg thanks to a bigger screen and better hardware, both “Park Patrol” and now “Clean Sweep” push the DS to its limits. Since Chibi-Robo is only a few inches tall, the game takes great pains to show the various areas in the house as being huge and daunting. The menus are easy to navigate and the HUD shows the main things you need to know, such as battery life for Chibi-Robo and the house a map of the current room you’re in that dominates the top screen at all times. The character models, at least for the humans, look almost anime-esque (Lucky the dog looked a bit scary, to be honest), but they fit in with the more cartoon-y toy characters. One thing I’ve always loved about the series is how bright and colorful everything is. There is the occasional time, usually because of the location being “gritty,” that a darker tone will be used, but they’re few and far between. I don’t think they could’ve made the game anymore polished with the DS hardware, and I feel they did a respectable job bringing some scope to it.

Sound:

Music and especially sound effects are a big part of any Chibi-Robo game. Most of the time, the music is very laid back to reflect the casual style and slower pacing of the game. However, it does pick up when enemies are around (more on those later). I would argue that sound effects are an even bigger part of the game, though. They indicate when your battery is about to run out (always a stressful sound), whether enemies are on your tail, and even the hours in the day. However, some people might be annoyed by them over time, as you hear sound effects constantly. Everything from running to climbing to cleaning is accompanied by a musical instrument. For example, scrubbing sounds like a guitar is playing. I personally enjoy these and have been used to them thanks to the other games, but others may want to turn down or turn off the volume. The same could also be said during dialogue segments, as the characters all have Simlish-like voices. Some of these are a little more annoying than others (*cough*Acapella*cough*), but again, it depends on whether or not they’re distracting to you.

Gameplay:

And once again, we’ve reached the meat of the game. “Clean Sweep” shares more in common with the original Chibi-Robo than “Park Patrol,” which I consider a good thing. While some elements can get a little repetitive, you can easily play it at your own pace and this is a series that feels like a natural fit for the DS’s on-the-go mantra. The core of the game is to clean every room to 100% completion at least once as you progress through the story. You pick up trash, scrub dirt, vacuum dust using various tools that you acquire as you interact with the characters or buy items over the phone. This part is particular is crucial, because buying items allows you to “upgrade” the house with new furniture. You do this and generally aid characters to earn Happy Points. Happy Points are basically the upgrade system for Chibi-Robo and the house, as the more you earn, the bigger the battery and extension cord you can get. The house also has a battery you have to manage, which can be filled by throwing out trash or dust bags. Upgrading is also useful for completing each room’s cleanliness, as you often need a longer cord and battery life to reach certain areas and accomplish tasks.

So, if Happy Points are for upgrades, how do you buy items for the house or Chibi-Robo? You do that by earning Moolah, the game’s currency. Both Moolah and Happy Points can be earned a variety of ways besides helping characters and cleaning. You can sift through the dust you collect to retrieve gems that you can cash in, hop over to a casino to play games and earn chips to exchange for more Moolah, and you can even find Moolah just hanging around in high places or inside drawers. Moolah goes hand in hand with Happy Points to progress the story as well, as Jenny and her family often have family meetings to save up for a new item, which you’re required to help with.

But what about those enemies I mentioned? Well, each day is split into day and night, and as you upgrade Chibi-Robo, you can also upgrade the length of each day’s play time (they zoom by fast). At night, ghosts made of dust and dirt will pop up to hinder Chibi-Robo. If they grab you, they’ll drain your battery. Luckily, the game gives you a few options to get rid of them, and you can even catch them to throw in the trash or expand the casino. The common way outside of using costumes you receive from characters is by picking up and throwing your extension cord. Yes, before “Zip Lash” existed, this was the first time Chibi-Robo could use his cord to attack enemies. Personally, I hated these guys. The battery drainage is annoying, yes, but the ghosts will disappear if you talk to someone or run circles around them long enough. They’re strictly a hindrance than a threat and I could’ve done without them.

Which brings me to my honestly only major complaint about “Clean Sweep”: the controls. One thing I liked about “Park Patrol” was that you could run around using the D-pad and everything else was pretty much relegated to the touch screen. Here, however, EVERYTHING aside from the camera is controlled via the touch screen. This means that there were often times I’d be trying to adjust the camera with the “D-pad” (aka my arrow keys) while trying to cross a skinny ceiling beam only to fall to the floor (thankfully, no fall damage here). Other times I’d try to climb up on the thin leg of a chair, which is done by holding forward, only to walk right by it instead. But the two most rage-inducing times occurred during a cleaning job and the boss fight (yes, Chibi-Robo has one). During the cleaning, I was tasked to scrub dirt out of an air conditioner. This would normally not be a problem, except it would periodically blow air strong enough to force Chibi-Robo back outside. That meant starting the process over and over again since there’s only one place inside to stand without being blown back. As for the boss, you’re required to hit his weak spot three times and then plug in to use the vacuum to suck Moolah out of him (don’t ask). But every time he tries to catch up and succeeds, he steals the Moolah right back. Thanks to movement between completely on the touch screen, there were more than a few times where I’d try to run only to be too slow and get caught. I realize playing on a laptop probably isn’t as ideal as the DS, but I have to wonder how much easier it’d be on one anyway.

Overall, though, “Chibi Robo! Clean Sweep” is a game that I wish could’ve been brought over here. Honestly, while I though “Park Patrol” was a decent game, this is the sequel fans who liked the first game deserved. It has a fun cast of characters, relatively huge locations given the DS’s hardware power, and gameplay that takes after the first game, which is a huge plus in my book. The Chibi-Robo series is one of the oddest I’ve played, but I love revisiting that little guy any chance I get and I’m glad I got to try this adventure out.

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