A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this innovative game has a very positive environmental bent. Players control a robot whose sole goal is to restore a dilapidated urban park to a greener state, which is mostly done by tilling the earth and planting flowers. There is little here that could conceivably offend; no real violence other than a couple of birds that sometimes slap each other, and no sexuality, save a bit of puppy love expressed by a pink toy car for other playthings. Still, the gameplay is complicated enough that it's best for kids ages 10 and up.
What's it about?
CHIBI-ROBO: PARK PATROL is one of the greenest games around. It puts players in the metallic boots of a tiny robot whose purpose in life is to clean up a ruined park and restore it to a state of lush beauty. Play is divided into relatively short days during which our little metal hero spends his time working on the park, fending off smogglers (little black balls with feet and mean faces intent on polluting the place) with his water hose, and visiting a nearby street, where he befriends discarded toys who help him in his quest. A pattern quickly establishes itself: tend to park chores, collect heart-shaped happy points that can be turned into energy, and then spend your energy to unlock new features that can be worked into the park's design, like shrubs, water fountains, and hills. It soon becomes a complex time management exercise in which players juggle a wide variety of tasks, working on each for just a few minutes at a time.
Is it any good?
The game does a great job of keeping players engaged via a nonstop torrent of goals and rewards. In the space of just a few minutes you can engage in a wide variety of activities, from making flowers dance by playing music to peddling a bike around the park to clipping and selling flowers to the local florist. None of these brief activities knock the ball out of the park in terms of sheer fun, but there is enough diversity that the game never gets dull. More importantly, the promise of recompense in the form of helpful Chibi-Robo gear, virtual playthings for your park, and collectible stickers, makes these activities take on a grander significance. What may initially seem little more than a collection of mildly distracting challenges suddenly becomes a game full of larger goals that can be very hard to put down.
On the downside, it's sometimes difficult to figure out what you ought to do next, especially near the beginning of the game. If you miss a key bit of instruction you may find yourself wandering about performing various tasks but wondering why the next important story event has yet to occur. Plus, the game's decidedly wacky Japanese visual style may be a turn off. The nearly headache-inducing bright and bold colors and distinctly odd sense of humor may be too foreign and unfamiliar for some players.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about environmental issues touched upon in the game, notably smog, energy use, and urban deforestation. How effective do you think the game's method of conservation (namely, planting flowers and restoring a park) might be in the real world? Has this game made you more interested in environmental issues? What are some simple actions you can take in your life to help the environment?
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