On first glance, Chibi-Robo! Photo Finder suggests widespread appeal—a cute robot! who does things!—but when combined with the “photo finder” phrase in the title, the appeal and the concept begin to slip. Is it a photo scavenger hunt? A robot game? Well, yes and no, and perhaps therein lies the problem.
The plot of the game is simple. Chibi-Robo has been tasked with taking photos of items—called NostalJunk—which will be put on display in a museum, to help the Curator attract visitors. As the game progresses and Chibi-Robo takes more photos, he’ll have the opportunity to explore various areas and help the curator tidy up.
On the surface, Chibi-Robo! Photo Finder is a photo scavenger hunt, but there’s more to it than simply running around with the 3DS and snapping pictures. In order to take pictures, you’ll need to complete jobs, explore various areas and tidy up, and participate in mini-games, all of which earn you Happy Points. These points can then be used to purchase the silhouette film needed to take pictures.
The silhouette film features outlines of various household items, and players need to match up the film outline and real-world object in order to receive an accuracy score on their photograph. The item then materializes in the game, and can be put “on display” in the museum.
Initially, there are only three mini-games and two explorable areas, but this increases (along with new silhouette film shapes) as you progress. There’s enough variety here in the mini-games to keep players interested most of the time—such as fetching items for a recipe, or target shooting with the 3DS’s gyroscopic capabilities—but the exploration aspect falls a little flat.
While you’d expect that “explore” would mean just that, it seems like little more than an excuse to plant Chibi-Robo in a room that needs vacuuming. There are occasional items to find, but you’ll often find yourself vacuuming up dust or scrubbing marker and biting your fingernails in worry that Chibi-Robo won’t make it back to the plug to recharge before his power runs out.
If you don’t manage to make it back to the plug at the curator’s desk—the central hub for the game—you’ll lose all progress for that section of gameplay. Unfortunately, in the early stages of the game, Chibi-Robo’s power level is extremely low, and you may find yourself running back to the plug every few minutes. It’s an odd choice, given how frustrating it is early on, but Chibi-Robo’s power level does increase as you progress—like a health bar that increases as you level up, so to speak.
Fans of previous Chibi-Robo games will be happy to recognize some familiar faces, as well as plenty of bizarre, quirky, new characters. The dialogue with some of these characters seems to go on for too long, however, and there’s no way to speed it up or opt out. Players who are impatient—like the one writing this review—might find themselves continuing to randomly press buttons in hopes that the speech speed will increase (it doesn’t).
Once you’ve completed enough tasks, and earned enough Happy Points to purchase more silhouette film, the real purpose of the game kicks in. With each film, as previously mentioned, you’ll need to find the matching item in your household… providing you have that item in your household. While almost everyone has a 3DS game case or pop can nearby, not everyone will have, say, a piece of sushi at their immediate disposal.
Before the hands go up in protest, yes, you can simply load up a picture on the computer of the item in question and take a picture of it that way. But where’s the fun in that? The point seems to be that you’ll be able to see your own household items on display inside the game, so taking a photo of a picture seems to take a little bit of the fun away. However, you’ll have to weigh that against the potential lost fun of waiting around to get to the store or a restaurant to photograph a piece of sushi or the like.
You’ll have nine tries to get your photograph correct, and a passing score comes from 60% accuracy. This is more difficult that you might expect—lighting may be off, and getting the camera & outline centered and steady can be a challenge—but I didn’t have too many problems during my gameplay. I typically took two photos before receiving a score of +60%, though the actual percentage received seemed somewhat arbitrary. In one shot, I received a score in the low 80s despite being too close to the item (so its shape was outside the lines of the outline), and another shot that I’d lined up almost perfectly was in the low 70s.
So long as you don’t plan on aiming for 100% in each shot (which I have not yet managed), taking a few shots to get one you’re happy with doesn’t slow down the flow, and the percentage doesn’t actually affect game experience. Of course, it could be argued that making it difficult and/or unpredictable to achieve 100% accuracy is a serious game design flaw and an odd way to set up the core aspect of the game, but considering the relative ease of the mini-games and exploration tasks, it’s possible the choice was made to introduce a level of challenge for players who enjoy more difficult tasks that require repeated attempts to get “right.”
The Technical Bits
I played this title on a 3DS XL and truthfully, I had the 3D turned off 98% of the time. Perhaps it had something to do with the larger screen, but the 3D “sweet spot” was extremely difficult to maintain, reminding me of the first few games after the 3DS’s launch. There were also a number of jagged edges and blurred textures, despite how detailed the picture usually looked. Again, this could have to do with playing it on an XL, as I haven’t seen it on the regular 3DS—but this isn’t an excuse for the game makers. By now, they should know better.
The controls for the actual gameplay are simple and work reliably. It’s a bit tricky to manoeuvre Chibi-Robo with the vacuum cleaner at first, but it’s easy to get the hang of (and more enjoyable once his battery life increases).
Despite the frustrations, it’s fairly enjoyable as a slower-paced, quirky game that demands little from the player. It can be played leisurely, though this is at times a detriment—the occasional dull, repetitive task makes it awfully tempting at times to put down and difficult to pick up again. And while it’s fun to see your real-world items inside the game, the oddly dysfunctional 3D and unpolished picture (and strange arbitrary nature of the camera) can take away from the fully immersive experience.
The good news is, Chibi-Robo! Photo Finder is cute, fun, and ultimately playable without game-crippling frustration (and fortunately, it’s also cheap), so it may be the kind of game that young friends, or a parent and child, can play together, searching for objects at home and enjoying the real-world scavenger aspect. The issues with the game don’t take away from the experience to an extent that would force you to walk away from it, and the charm of the main character, and the other characters within the game, contribute greatly to its ‘fun factor.’
If you are a patient player who prefers not to feel rushed through a game, and who finds the issues described above minor enough to overlook, this may be one worth spending your free time on.