The incredulous Hollywood cry "How did that get the green light?" is often followed by an obvious reason: Tom Cruise's agent's cousin's sister wrote it, Jimmy Fallon was jazzed about it but dropped out at the last minute, the studios needed a tax write-off. But in the world of video games, it's harder to imagine a roomful of people deciding to throw their company's money behind ideas that seem, at least on the surface, borderline suicidal.
Enter Chibi-Robo!, a Japanese game in which you play a robot whose tasks mostly involve housecleaning: scrubbing the floor, picking up garbage, etc. Maybe it's a knee-jerk reaction to the murder, basketball, and zombies of today's popular console games, but it seems awfully extreme to hope that gamers will take time away from cleaning their actual houses to scrub a virtual one, especially when things move at Chibi-Robo's leisurely pace.
The game's unskippable beginning—later, there'll be interminable unskippable dialogue, too—introduces the Sanderson family. You work for them. They speak to you in a nonsense language. And then it's off to work, tiny slave-bot. The tasks include scrubbing the floor, fetching things, and moving trash to garbage cans. Of course, that isn't all there is to Chibi-Robo!: You're eventually able to explore the rest of the house, interacting with toys that only come alive at night. You even get a blaster eventually, but zapping little robot spiders doesn't provide too much challenge or excitement. Mostly, you're a little electric domestic. Good training for a pre-teen perhaps, but not something you'll want to keep doing for the entire half-day it takes to complete this game.
Beyond the game: The graphics and sounds are cute, and some strange, purely Japanese moments are worth some of the slog of the regular game: Early on, you meet a superhero toy who fights justice by striking kick-ass poses, and he'll even teach you to do it, too.
Worth playing for: Those brief glimmers of excitement and weirdness between chores.
Frustration sets in when: You're rocking along on a task, when suddenly day turns to night and you're automatically returned to your home base to recharge.
Final judgment: Cute, but slow and ultimately unrewarding, unless you're interested in becoming the best robot servant in the universe. Then it's the greatest game ever.