Hello class and welcome back to Nintendo History 101. Now today we are continuing our look at the history of Chibi-Robo. I hope you remembered what you learned, but if not then just head on back to part 1 and give that a read first, we can wait. Ok, done? Good! Let’s continue.
Moving the date back to 2005, the original Chibi-Robo launched in Japan, and while the game did not sell by the buckets, it received very positive reviews with many praising various aspects of the game. skip couldn’t be happier at the little guys success but, inside the company, a new problem emerged. The director of the first Chibi-Robo, and one of the founding members of skip Ltd., Kenshi Nishi had decided to leave skip and form his own company, Route24. While he kept up connections within the company, he never went back to making a Chibi-Robo title and instead went on to make a sequel to an earlier title of his, called L.O.L, on the Nintendo DS.
Kenshi Nishi was not against returning to work on the Chibi-Robo series once more; however, he was never called back. Instead, the the team was moved to a new office in Harajuku, and this time Hiroshi Moriyama was leading the charge. In the previous game he had been co-director alongside Kenshi Nishi, but now he was set to have free-reign over the team.
Development of Chibi-Robo did not start straight away as the team began working on other pitches to give Nintendo for a new game on the Nintendo DS. In an interview with Nintendo Co. Ltd, Moriyama stated:
“Truth be told, after the development of Chibi-Robo, the director that had always been with us left the company so we made a Harajuku office with just us. Since we started without any project plans, Ueda and I spent four months working on nothing but project plans everyday. They were all unused.”
The most interesting idea found amongst these concepts was the idea to make a Paper Toy game, where players could create their own characters on the touch-pad and share them over Nintendo WiFi. While the idea was thrown out, it later resurfaced as Nintendo’s Freakyforms series on the Nintendo 3DS, which was created by Moriyama himself.
Eventually, the team settled on making a new Chibi-Robo game; however, it was not the Chibi-Robo title we would end up getting. Instead, the title was a rhythm game for Nintendo DS. The games idea was simple, the player could be able to play their own music through the Nintendo DS microphone and have Chibi-Robo dance to it based on the tempo of the song. The player would use the touch-screen in order to make Chibi-Robo match the rhythm of the song. This idea got far enough that the team had made a working prototype, yet they soon realized a massive flaw with the idea. As the Nintendo DS was portable, many people would end up playing the game outside, and this caused problems with playing music through the microphone.
Unfortunately, this Chibi-Robo game–which I’m going to unofficially refer to as Dancing all Night! (Not the official project name) needed to change. The outside world (literally) had prevented them from realizing their idea, so it was decided that Chibi-Robo would move out of his old house, giving him the freedom of the outdoors. This direction was partly pushed towards by Kensuke Tanabe who wanted the team to put less focus on a series of specific events but instead give players the freedom to do whatever they wanted. He had hoped that this direction would allow the team to take a new approach to the franchise, making a game that would not need to compete with its predecessor.
Some of the assets previously used in the demo would be repurposed into this new game, including the dancing mechanic which evolved into rather controversial mechanic of dancing to music to grow flowers.
Saving the world one blade of grass at a time
So, development officially began on Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol at the very beginning of 2006. The first Chibi-Robo game saw our little hero trying to get happiness points by helping out a family in their home but by taking Chibi-robo outside of the house, a new locale for the hero to work at was needed. Taking inspiration from the garden aspects of the GameCube title, the team thought that placing Chibi-Robo in a park would be the best choice this time around. The plot was simple, and seemingly decided from the very beginning. Set during the same time as the first game, this adventure saw a brand new Chibi-Robo take the role. These new models of Chibi-Robos were designed to help the environment by growing flowers as a part of Citrus Softs ‘save-the-environment’ campaign.
By setting the game in a park this gave the team the perfect, open, environment to allow for their main two gameplay mechanics. The first of these was the ability to use vehicles. Chibi-Robo could now use a variety of vehicles to travel through the park, such as a bicycle or buggie, due to it’s large size and the more open ended nature of the game, which was not available in the house setting. The next feature was customization. Chibi-Robo was fully in charge of bringing this park back to life and so players had the option to customize their park, deciding where to plant flowers and set up play areas for guests. However, setting the game in a park had some adverse effects. Chibi-Robo could not longer charge up easily at a wall socket so instead, the player was forced to return to the Chibi-house in order to recharge. This likely added more reason for the inclusion of vehicles as it allowed Chibi-Robo to get back to the start point with ease.
Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol ended up with a development time of roughly 2 years, launching in Japan on July 7th 2007; however, the game was first shown off a year before this at E3 2006, a few weeks before the original game even launched in Europe! While the game was described as still being in early development, it was received rather positively from critics who believed the game could live up to the original. Unfortunately, this would not be the case.
Despite not performing terribly, Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol failed to hit the same heights as its predecessor. While the game still received positive reviews with some reviewers praising the game’s charm and ‘innovative use of the touchscreen’, other reviews slated the repetitive nature of the gameplay. Despite these issues, Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol managed to do surprisingly well in Japan. Whereas the first game shipped just under 35,000 copies in its first week and just under 100,000 in lifetime sales, Park Patrol managed to just be shy 50,000 in its first week entering at number 2 in the charts. By the end of it, Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol managed to nearly hit 200,000 life-time sales in Japan alone which helped to push the series forward. However, this is just in Japan. Overseas, Chibi-Robo’s new, outdoor adventure appeared to not be faring so well.
For starters, the game never saw the light of day in Europe. While Australia would eventually get the title in 2008, this little DS adventure completely skipped Europe with no explanation given. I do have a theory why it was skipped. As stated earlier, Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol was announced even before the original launched in Europe, and Nintendo of Europe (NoE) may not have felt committed to the sequel of a title whose marketability they were not yet sure of. The second reason would be the poor sales of the original game in Europe, which made up roughly 15% of the titles total sales. With the added cost of translating the game into several languages, NoE likely had little confidence that this game would turn a profit. Nintendo of America (NoA) may have thought the same, which led to a rather bizarre marketing campaign for Park Patrol that, in all likeliness, ruined the games chances stateside.
In 2006, a controversial movie by ex-Vice President of the United States, Al Gore, was released called an Inconvenient Truth. This movie made the fears of global warming in the US all the more real and plenty of business’ were attempting to garner good press by showing how they also, were environmentally friendly. Nintendo of America was one of these companies.
Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol is all about restoring the environment and the game attempts to push an environmentally friendly message. NoA decided on two different marketing campaigns for this game. The first was through the Chibi-Robo website. The first 500 people who bought the game and submitted the code given alongside it to the Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol website. Doing so will win you a tree-seedling, allowing the player to go and plant their own tree. IIt is a bit of an odd give-away but it did not damage sales of the game. This, in my opinion did not harm the sales unlike the second marketing campaign. .
Very soon after the release of Park Patrol in Japan, many American outlets began cancelling pre-orders for the game and removing its then September release date off of their servers, claiming that Nintendo had informed them that they would no longer be receiving the title. This confused many gamers and for a time, the game was thought to be cancelled. However, a few weeks later Nintendo of America attempted to clear up confusion by announcing that Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol had now been pushed back to October 2nd 2007 and would now be exclusive to Wal-Mart.
According to a Nintendo spokesperson, the reason Wal-Mart was given exclusive selling rights was the following:
“For the new Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol game for Nintendo DS, Nintendo partnered with Wal-Mart because of Wal-Mart’s strong environmental program and social giving campaign. Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol has an environmental theme, and we wanted to make sure that it received exposure among a broad audience of consumers as we continue to get more and more people interested in the world of video games.”
This is a rather ironic statement by Nintendo as their claims to bring Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol to a broader audience with this deal ended up backfiring tremendously as many gamers were seemingly unaware of this deal and so had a hard time picking up the game at all. According to some, you could not even order the game online at the time.
While I could not find any sales data in the US for this game, all evidence points to it selling very poorly. Apart from Gamasutra listing the title as one of its ‘top 5 overlooked games’ of 2007 the lack of a sequel being released in the US seems to point towards NoA following the same path as its European brother. Afterall, it is not like the Nintendo DS did not see another main-line Chibi-Robo game released. That’s right, there was one more.
Chibi-Robo returns home
Despite the failure of the Chibi-Robo series outside of Japan, the franchise was seemingly getting more popular over in Japan.Nintendo noticed this as 2 years later, in 2009, a brand new Chibi-Robo game, made by the same team as Park Patrol, would be released exclusively in Japan. Very little is known about the development of Okaeri! Chibi-Robo! Happy Richie Ōsōji!, which can be translated to roughly ‘Welcome Home Chibi-Robo! Happy, Rich Major Cleanup!’. The game was only announced 6 weeks before it’s release date on Nintendo Co. Ltd.’s online schedule. The game would not see its first screenshots until the release of CoroCoro magazine and even then that was the only advertisement the game seemed to get. Based on what we do know about the title and the development of the previous games, we can infer some things.
First, the game seems to have been in development for roughly the same amount of time as Park Patrol was. Rather than rely on the engine used in Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol, the team completely started from scratch and slowly re-added features back in. One of the big changes was to the controls. No longer did players move the character around with the d-pad, but, instead, players controlled the character with the stylus.Players could touch certain areas and objects on the touch screen to make Chibi-Robo investigate them. On the top screen was the game’s HUD which contained a map, a clock and information on how much power was left in both you and the house. Many of the ideas from Park Patrol returned such as growing plants, digging up treasure and riding vehicles. The vehicle idea was greatly expanded upon this time around, giving Chibi-Robo the ability to fly through the air in a plane, an idea that was considered in the original GameCube title.
What we can infer about the development of Okaeri! Chibi-Robo! is that the game attempted to be a return to form. One common criticism of Park Patrol was that the open park area did not feel as enjoyable or as interesting to travel around as the house from the first game. So this time, the team decided to move Chibi-Robo back inside the house and make a direct follow-up to the original game. Set 20 years after the first game, this Chibi-Robo is the same one found in the original who is still owned by Jenny, the little girl from the original title who has now grown up and has a son of her own called Keith. However, their house is in ruins,so it is up to Chibi-Robo to not only make them happy but fix their living conditions. This game introduced ‘richies’ which could be obtained by cleaning up and sieving through dust found throughout the house. These ‘richies’ can be used to buy new furniture for the house which would make the owners happy and thus, get more happiness points.
Another new mechanic took the power idea of Chibi-Robo and applied it to the whole house. There was now a limit on the amount of Watts that could be found in the house and if that hit zero it was game-over. In order to provide power to the house, an incinerator was introduced where Chibi-Robo could take trash and burn it in order to increase the amount of Watts that could be used. This mechanic added a new twist to the game that made it much more than a simple copy of the first game.
During the development of this game, a remake of the original Chibi-Robo for Wii was in development and launched just 2 days after this new game was revealed. It seems that Nintendo’s plans to remake Chibi-Robo alongside other big name titles was in order to remind players of the original game and help them prepare for this new one. However, focus on Chibi-Robo for Wii may very well be why so little of Chibi-Robo 3 was actually heard of before release as Nintendo did not want two similar Chibi-Robo games being shown off at the same time otherwise it may cause confusion. Unfortunately, this may have damaged the title in the end.
Okaeri! Chibi-Robo! Happy Richie Ōsōji! launched on July 23rd 2009 to much more positive reviews. The game received a 34 out of 40 in Famitsu, and many gamers praised its charm and the fact that it does not get old fast, common complaints found in Park Patrol. However, despite being received more positively than it’s predecessor, the game did not perform as well, coming in 5th in its first week, selling approx. 35,000 copies and shipping roughly 143,000 in lifetime sales. Although the sales were greater than the first game and its remake they failed to reach the same heights as Park Patrol. This was most likely due to its extremely short promotional period of 6 weeks.
Okaeri! Chibi-Robo! Happy Richie Ōsōji! is an interesting title, not only for the history of Chibi-Robo but for the history of skip Ltd. as a whole. Okaeri! Chibi-Robo! was the last Chibi-Robo game to follow the same idea as how the series started. A new entry in the franchise would not be seen for 4 years. Part of the reason for this may be because of the departure of Hiroshi Moriyama, who directed all three games, alongside Kenshi Nishi in the first game and then on his own for the series two sequels. After development on the third Chibi-Robo came to a close, Moriyama packed up his things and said goodbye to the company. He went on to join a small independent company called Asobism where he pitched the previously mentioned Paper Toys idea and thus, Freakyforms: your creations alive! was born.
Without a director, the team behind Chibi-Robo seemingly disbanded. Things were rough for skip Ltd. as they were seemingly failing to pitch ideas to Nintendo’s higher ups. Between 2009 and 2013, skip Ltd. practically fell into inactivity and Chibi-Robo along with them; however, this is still not the end of our little robotic pal. Unfortunately it is the end of today’s extra long lesson. I hope I managed to keep your attention the whole way through and that snoring I heard half-way through was just my imagination. Oh well, join me next time for part 3 of the history of Chibi-Robo where we are going to take a look at the revival of the franchise on Nintendo’s follow-up to the Nintendo DS, the Nintendo 3DS. Until then, take care.
Cubed3: C3 Exclusive Interview | Skip, Ltd Talks Nintendo, Chibi-Robo DS, GiFTPiA & More!, 22nd July 2006. (retrieved on 23/11/2015)
Famitsu: 週刊ファミ通7月13日号新作ゲームクロスレビューより, 29th June 2007. (retrieved on 23/11/2015)
Gamasutra: Japanese Charts: Dragon Quest IX Continues Reign, 30 July 2009. (retrieved on 23/11/2015)
IGN: CHIBI-ROBO PLANTS TREES, 4th Oct 2007. (retrieved on 23/11/2015)
IGN: E3 2006: Chibi Robo: Park Patrol Hands-on, 10th May 2006. (retrieved on 23/11/2015)
Japanese3DS: Okaeri! Chibi Robo! review, 14th December 2014. (retrieved on 23/11/2015)
Lovedelic Life: New Chibi-Robo due in 6 weeks!, 9th June 2009. (retrieved on 23/11/2015)
modojo: Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol DS Review, 2007. (retrieved on 23/11/2015)
NeoGaf: Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol (DS) Thread of Awkward Wal-Mart Exclusivity, 29th September 2007. (retrieved on 23/11/2015)
Nintendo World Report: Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash Interview with Risa Tabata and Kensuke Tanabe, 29th June 2015. (retrieved on 23/11/2015)
N.O.M: Park Patrol Staff Interview, no. 108, July 2007. (retrieved on 23/11/2015)
Siliconera: Nintendo’s First Original eShop Game Is Developed By The Director Of Chibi-Robo, 12th November 2011. (retrieved on 23/11/2015)
Siliconera: Chibi Robo: Park Patrol cancelled? Golin Harris comments, 31st July 2007. (retrieved on 23/11/2015)
Siliconera: Chibi Robo only found in Walmart, 8th August 2007. (retrieved on 23/11/2015)
Siliconera: The Origins Of Nintendo’s Loveable Robot, Chibi-Robo, And How He Turned Into An Action Star, 22nd July 2015. (retrieved on 23/11/2015)
VGchartz: Chibi-Robo! Plug into Adventure!. (retrieved on 16/11/2015)
VGchartz: Okaeri! Chibi-Robo! Happy Richie Ōsōji!. (retrieved on 23/11/2015)
Unseen64: Chibi Robo: Park Patrol [DS – Beta], 19th october 2008. (retrieved on 23/11/2015)
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