Explaining the attraction of the Chibi-Robo series to the uninitiated isn't the easiest task. While the idea of a helpful little robot may be charming enough, it's the activities he takes part in — which, on the surface, might sound like little more than virtual chores — that are sure to scare away many a gamer. What Chibi-Robo! Photo Finder brings to the table is a core idea that's universally understandable and highly inviting, but can this downloadable photo hunt capture picture-perfect memories, or will it develop negative feelings?
Simply classifying Photo Finder as a scavenger hunt wouldn't be accurate, as there's much more to the game than that. By participating in mini-games and other activities you’ll be rewarded with a currency called Happy Points. These points are used to purchase silhouette film, providing you with an outline of a real-world object that you’ll need to find and snap a picture of. At that point the captured items – referred to as NostalJunk – will be materialized in the game world and displayed in a museum. It’s your job to help the curator of this museum to populate this exhibit, which in turn attracts visitors.
Initially you'll start out limited to about three mini-games, but as you progress by loading the exhibit with NostalJunk and unlocking more silhouette films, more games will begin to show up. These range from things like first-person target shooting that uses the gyroscopic capabilities of the 3DS to refrigerator fetch quests where you need to track down the perfect ingredients for a specified recipe. Some of these are a lot of fun to play — like target shooting — but in others success feels a bit too arbitrary. In some instances it's hard to feel like you're not being put to work — which is literally what you'll be doing.
When selecting the Explore option from the main menu of the Chibi-PC, players will have the choice of visiting various environments — like a desktop, a garage, a garden and more — and, you know, explore them. By wandering around and doing some light platforming you can find a few hidden items tucked away, but most of the time you'll be vacuuming up piles of dust, scrubbing away marker with a toothbrush or picking up littered rubbish. These are the kind of banal activities that many people will dread doing, where others will find comfort in the routine — the legendary forklift driving sections in Sega's Dreamcast classic Shenmue spring to mind.
You'll need to do as much of this as you can before Chibi's battery runs too low, which is when you'll have to head back to the Curator's Desk — the game's central hub — to plug in and recharge. If you run out of juice before doing so you'll lose any progress made in that stretch of play. In the early-goings having your productivity limited by such short battery life feels like a terrible design choice. Luckily, as you progress your wattage level increases, providing you more time to complete tasks — which ultimately makes proceedings more enjoyable.
The oddball cast of characters — some returning from past Chibi-Robo outings — does a good job of keeping circumstances delightfully weird on a regular basis. Whether you're absorbing cleaning orders from a teddy-bear-shaped sponge, or listening to the gossip of a lady alien dressed in her Sunday's finest, the interactions are quite memorable. Unfortunately, you may grow to despise these characters due to their excessive chatter.
When entering a conversation with any of the supporting cast you'll need to sit through painfully-slow scrolling text, even if you've already heard it multiple times before. Directions that have previously been explained can be skipped, but there's always an intrusive chunk of text before and after that's sure to irritate when you have a limited amount of time to play. This complaint extends beyond conversations as well, as entering any area of each game mode feels like it takes much longer than it ever should. You'd be surprised how many times you can press the A-button while trying to speed things along — without results, of course.
Once you begin accumulating Happy Points it's time to invest in Silhouette Film and start snapping pictures of your personal belongings. Some of the items you'll need to track down are as common as a 3DS game case or a baseball cap, while others — like sushi or a Wii U GamePad — may not be so readily available. Depending on how accurately you line up the outline with the object you're shooting, your efforts will be rated by a percentage of accuracy — 60% being the minimum needed to advance. You have nine tries to get a fitting photograph or you'll burn out that piece of film, need to repurchase it, and start the process over again. We know you may be thinking that nine tries sounds like more than necessary to take one photograph properly, and normally we'd agree; but the issue is that the 3DS camera isn't always up to the task.
On most occasions we found it necessary to concoct our own little makeshift photo studio, with a lamp barely two feet above the item we were photographing, and even then the game suggested the item was too dark to photograph. More than once all nine attempts were exhausted due to the limitations of the 3DS camera. Earning 100% accuracy will reward you further, however scoring that high seems to have no rhyme or reason.
A handful of photographs that we took didn't even remotely match the silhouette outline, and weren't even the slightest bit lined up with any edges of the object, yet a perfect rating was bestowed upon us. There were many other times where the opposite happened — we took a perfectly placed picture of a solid coloured CD multiple times, in immediate lighting, and couldn't score higher than 62%. It's all so inconsistent, and in truth, if we had to slap a figure on how often this function works as it should, we'd go with a 10-20% — it's that unreliable.
When it comes to appearances Chibi-Robo is a mixed bag. On one hand there’s a lot of detail, and the captured-photograph look of the textures gives the game a look of its own. On the other hand, the frame rate can run very low at times, the 3D sweet spot can be temperamental and there are many rough edges. It should be noted that our review sessions took place on a 3DS XL, which may attribute to the jagged edges; although, these imperfections still seemed to be more prominent than other games played on the same device. Some of the low resolution, blurry textures can also be an eyesore — but for the most part, it all works well enough to get the job done.
Our time spent with Chibi-Robo was filled with many highs and many lows, but in the end we found enough of the game enjoyable to know that — despite the numerous shortcomings and hurdles — Chibi may still deliver enough real-life Happy Points to make the risk worth taking. After all, there are roundabout ways in which you can secure those hard-to-get photos – capturing images from a computer screen or sketching the objects on paper – though it should be said that this process sucks the fun out of being able to transfer your personal belongings into a virtual space, which was part of the allure to begin with.
Chibi-Robo! Photo Finder brings a lot of quirkiness and value to the eShop, but camera functionality that borders on broken, a couple of questionable design choices and some dreadfully bland mini-games really short circuit the overall potential of the package. That’s not to say that there isn't a good game here, but you’ll need to go out of your way and participate in a less rewarding manner to get the most out of it. If you’re still interested after reading through our criticisms, there’s likely enough here to justify a purchase; otherwise, you’re probably best off leaving this photo undeveloped.