Game Review

by Dave Riley,

Chibi-Robo: Photo Finder


Chibi-Robo: Photo Finder
Chibi-Robo: Photo Finder sends the beloved house-cleaning robot Chibi on a small-scale journey to sweep up messes and bring joy to those around him. Unfortunately, Photo Finder's rote gameplay in no way mirrors the pizzaz of the setting.

Chibi-Robo, the house-cleaning robot, is currently in the employ of the Nostaljunk museum, a place that displays (and speculates on the purpose of) a variety of average, unexciting household items such as buttons, power outlets, and soda cans. Based on this startling lack of knowledge about present-day life, it seems likely that Chibi-Robo has been transported into a far-flung apocalyptic landscape. This hypothesis is corroborated by the fact that we never see anything but an office, a single kitchen, a workshop, and all are basically devoid of life. Therefore, we must assume that the last building standing is the Nostaljunk Museum and the last living human being is the effete, and obviously insane, museum curator. Under the thumb of this bereted tyrant, the lovable Chibi must work odd jobs or clean up minute piles of dust with his tiny vacuum in order to secure Happy Points, with which he can buy essence-capturing Silhouette Film. Using Silhouette Film he can scan images in the real world and convert them into display pieces to grow the museum's collection, and forestall the curator's wrath.

Or, that's one way to interpret the plot. The more accurate reading is a lot less fun: spurred on by the unskippable dialogue of the curator and his assistant Telly, an anxiety-prone iPhone, Chibi-Robo slogs through a series of mini-game whose mechanics are underwhelming and whose variety is nil, and returns over and over to the same few household locations to clean the same piles of dust from the same nooks and crannies.

The majority game is grinding for Happy Points, which exist in such short supply that Chibi must repeat every activity multiple times to afford whatever four pieces of film are currently on offer. Battery life restricts your ability to wander and clean. Even though the exploration zones are microscopic, Chibi's battery is smaller. It's almost impossible to clean an entire area before your battery runs out, but it hardly matters; there's no apparent difference in cleaning up all the trash/vacuuming all the dirt/toothbrushing all the stains in one try or two, except that it spares you the near-perpetual disappointment of the recycling robot, who replies with admonishments whenever Chibi returns a vacuum bag that isn't 100% full. The only benefit for efficient work is a few less sentences of repeat dialogue from Telly.

Really though, you're going to see that dialogue over and over, no matter how efficient you are. Each roll of film requires suffering through a near-eternal dusting purgatory, which is only about 5-10 minutes in reual time, but feels like an eon after you toothbrushed your 30th stain. Eventually you will have enough to afford a single roll. Purchase secured, you can now use the 3DS Camera to capture pictures of real-life objects whose shape matches the outline on the film. The game then recreates these objects as 3D models, which Chibi puts on display in the museum. There, they will attract an unseen populace of future people who can't figure out what a toilet paper roll does.

It's kind a neat idea, scanning in whatever can of Coke or punk rock CD you happen to have lying around. It's a shame, then, that the function essentially does not work. Photos must be at least 60% accurate to the silhouette, but the 3DS's camera is such crap that even 60% accuracy is impossible to attain unless you stick whatever you're trying to photograph under an extremely powerful light source. Even then, once you've converted your bathroom into a professional photography studio, you may be hard-pressed to find a shirt whose shape matches the rigidly defined outlines of a Silhouette Film's t-shirt, or a CD with the perfect circumference to match what Photo Finder thinks a CD looks like. Resourceful players will find more success in pulling up pictures of the request objects on their computer and photographing those -- coincidentally, the 3DS's camera works perfectly with an ultra-bright laptop screen -- but using a work-around like this sucks all the fun and adventure out of the one part of the game that actually offers some sense of fun and adventure.

Still, there's hardly any option but to cheat: you only get 9 tries before your film expires and the game forces you to buy a new copy. The mere threat of wasted effort is enough to send any reasonable player running to Google Image Search. Lost Happy Points mean more re-dos of the same tiny areas you've already cleaned a dozen times, since the other major source of income, mini-game jobs, come around rarely, can only be done once per appearance (even if you fail), and often only cover the cost of one or two film purchases.

To their credit, the mini-games are at least a little cute; adorability is Photo Finder's one saving grace. There's an extremely intense robot toy who speaks in all caps about his favorite activity: a high-stakes, no take-backs game of… pulling out a tape measure and getting it as close as possible to a specified length. There's a superhero who bemoans his lack of a nemesis, an immaculately dressed, tentacled, lady-alien bus driver, and a teddy bear/sponge who only slings suds to finance his rapping career.

But, really, it's the characters who are cute, not the games. Joshy Bear is unquestionably charming, but his cleaning activity is identical to wandering around in the actual world and vacuuming up dust, only now it has a required completion percentage. The only mini-game worthy of even marginal attention is "Go Fetch, Sous-Chef," where the anthropomorphic condiments Ketschburg and Moustardin ask Chibi to retrieve specific ingredients from the fridge. Sous-Chef is borderline tolerable because discerning ground beef from a cut of chicken takes one iota of thought, which is one iota more than the completely rote shooting gallery or Three-Card Monte.

What's the difference? There aren't enough mini-games to fund half the film you need, so you'll do them all anyway, as soon as they come up, because the other option is to break out your vacuum for the thousandth time for another jolt of spectacular boredom cleaning the same kitchen that was pretty dull that first time around. There is absolutely no game here, just a series of busy-work activities acting as gatekeepers to what ought to be the fun part, the picture-taking, only the fun part doesn't actually work. Photo Finder is a menial labor simulator whose characters have heart, but whose gameplay is completely devoid of soul.

Overall : D-
Graphics : B+
Sound/Music : C
Gameplay : F
Presentation : D

+ Cute setting, adorable characters
Repetitive environments, gameplay that barely qualifies as such

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