Smile and Nod

Smile and Nod: Looking for Touch in All the Wrong Places

Russ Pitts | 3 Mar 2008 21:00
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The original Chibi Robo on the Gamecube was a game I tried at the recommendation of a number of people and against my better judgment. And I loved it. The gameplay was excellent, the story was fun and the damn, little robot was so achingly cute I couldn't stand it. You starred as a tiny robot enlisted by a dysfunctional family to help clean up their house and make their lives better. The more things you did for them, the more "happy points" you earned, and the happier they became. And that's pretty much all there is to it, which, ironically, makes it wonderful.

But the best part of the game was the sound. Every movement the robot made, from walking to scrubbing floors with a toothbrush to using his helicopter propeller to sail safely to the ground from great heights, made music. Playing the game, you were assembling those musical notes into a symphony of sound, while exerting order in a chaotic world and setting things right. Basically, for a neurotic control freak like me, it was better than Xanax.

Park Patrol is more of the same, except you've taken your show to the public garden and are helping flowers grow and banishing the evil smog monsters. It's a hackneyed statement on the condition of our planet and how we, as little robots, can exert meaningful, positive change, but in spite of that pathetically trite premise, it's a lot of fun.

Coming home from Wal-Mart, I'd barely set foot into the house before I was on the spare couch, DS in hand, firing up Chibi Robo: Park Patrol. Ten minutes later, I'd rediscovered my Zen. "If the little robot with his musical feet can wash away the trauma of a trip to Wal-Mart on a Sunday," I said to myself "imagine the wonders he will do for airline travel."

A month later, I can call the experiment a success. Thanks to Chibi and my sleek, sexy black DS Lite, I'm now not only a handheld gamer, but a relatively relaxed airplane traveler to boot. I've joined the touch generation, and now I wonder how I ever managed to get by with just a book and a double shot of scotch. The screen is still too small, and the device is just on the wrong side of fitting comfortably in a pocket, but Vishnu help me, I'm discovering the play experiences are just as engaging as those to be found on other platforms, and more so when tailored to the touch screen on the DS. My misconceptions sloughing way, horizons broadening, world view expanding ... I'm not sure what will come of all of this. But flying is more fun now. Perhaps that's enough.

Russ Pitts is the Acquisitions and Production manager for The Escapist. His column, Smile and Nod, appears every Monday. His blog can be found at www.falsegravity.com.

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