Thursday, 6 February 2014

Chibi Robo: Photo Patrol

  First, some housekeeping.  Sorry for the delayed schedule this month.  Trouble is brewing on the job side.  Sorry folks.  I hope not to keep you waiting in the future, but ... you know...

  Second, thank God for the eShop, as its low $10 buy-in makes today's post possible!  Yeah.  Today we will be discussing Chibi Robo: Photo Finder, the latest iteration of one of those "new IP" that Nintendo doesn't have.  Well, new as of the Gamecube era.  I caught up with Chibi late in the Nintendo DS era, during Park Patrol, and that experience colors just about everything else about this game, and for the most part colors it wrongly.  I've thought about what the difference is, and I think the vast majority of my reaction can be summed up in broad discussions of art:

  Photo realistic, or Animation.

  Animation doesn't have to look realistic, as we, as a culture, have become long inured by "cartoons" delivering the fantastic, indeed the whimsical, and bizarre.  Imagination is limited by animation, and with greater skills, imaginations expand to fit animation.  Chibi Robo: Park Patrol is shamelessly low resolution, even suffering the odd frame skip every once in a while, but I sure didn't care, as I was having way too much fun steering Chibi Robo through his adventure, building his park, and playing with the toys that I worked hard to build.  ... you can sense there is a "but" coming, right?

  The Nintendo 3DS is, if anything, much higher resolution than the Nintendo DS, but a far cry from the Gamecube, falling somewhere above the N64 for processing, but much closer to it for visuals.  It is a famous platform for jaggies; 3DS owners usually counter with arguments about the stereoscopic 3D effect balancing it out.  Chibi Robo: Photo Finder must be the ultimate argument to silence such enthusiasts.  This is the face that greets all gamers who dare to help Chibi with his tasks:
  Chibi Robo attempts to navigate in a much more photo realistic sense than most other IP coming out of the family of Nintendo companies.  While it can be seen in previous Chibi Robo visuals, the developer, Skip, always carefully steered away from "realism" toward safer, more cartoony shores.  Voices speak in simlish. Faces of humans are rarely if ever seen, even if they talk to Chibi frequently.  Careful actions are taken to make Chibi’s world seam unreal enough to avoid the limits of his medium.  And they are smart actions…

  Chibi-Robo: Photo Finder dives deep into cinema, simlish voices intact, low resolution images abounding, the flaws of the camera on display for all to see, and all characters dancing about in communicative gesturing in full 3D.  It’s, something else.  Further yet, Chibi’s supporting cast retains their lovable Japanese-ness.  Consider the example of Super Geotron X, a die-cast robot toy descended of TV greatness.  The toy itself is realistic, metallic, and full of buzzing, whirring, flashing mecha.  Picture your favorite Japanimation with giant robots, I’m sure that you know the type.

  Now picture this friendly robot standing over Chibi (and by extension, you), beaming brightly from his incandescent eyes, as a wave of particle lights stream into your face in full stereoscopy.  It must be time for Quizz!

  Surely this scene is deliberate – you couldn’t accidentally create something so horrifying as a bookend for playing with measuring tape!  And I can’t shake the feeling of how … different this feels from the previous Chibi-Robo.  Smart readers could probably already sense that I haven’t seen Chibi-Robo for the Gamecube, so I can’t comment on the general progress of the franchise.  But three games and three distinct hardware systems in, and I could bet this is something pretty close to the original vision of Chibi-Robo.

  I’m not the type to admit gladly that graphics matter to me, but I will be the first to ponder the meaning that is intended to be expressed.  My suspicion is that Chibi-Robo is intended to be a toy robot one might see on his/her own carpet one day soon.  Real, or realistic.  The DS was simply too low res to permit this effort, and the visuals of the Gamecube original certainly support that vision.  But the real tragedy is that … I don’t think the 3DS is up to the task either!   Sure it looks like Skip is pulling hard on the visuals, and probably having way too much fun at the unintended consequences, but there is the truth of it.

  Even photographing the stuff out of my own world, Chibi isn’t ready for reality quite yet!  That should be qualified though, for of the cast that I’ve encountered so far, Chibi is by far the easiest character to look at.  This stands out strongly compared to the rest of the larger Nintendo family, most of which are resolutely kept in the design of cartoons, no matter how close to reality their actions.  Chibi wants most to be a part of our lives; who can really refuse him?

I’ll be posting again as I soldier on.  Topics to look forward to include the use of the 3DS camera to capture Nostaljunk, the rest of the cast, and Chibi-Robo’s general emotional presence.  

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