Narita boy Dreams come true
For a moment it was questionable whether Narita Boy would still be released. The new Spanish developer Studio Koba raised 160,000 euros via Kickstarter in 2017. The expected release date was December 2018. It eventually took a few more years and a deal with publisher Team17, but the wait was worth it. This game is bursting at the seams with original ideas.
Frankly, Narita Boy doesn’t make the very best first impression. After the hero is sucked into a digital world, the game can hardly wait to inundate you with all its intriguing concepts. You talk to the Motherboard, you are called the hero of the Trichroma and you have to free one Baba without knowing who that is, for example by scoring a Techno key. You have no idea what it all means and you walk through the surroundings a bit dazed.
But if you persevere, you will be rewarded with a wealth of inspiring backgrounds and concepts. You talk to a pregnant computer, see a frog-shaped monitor, or step into a neon-colored beam pumped out of someone’s face. Especially interesting is the mix between religious images and technological marvels. The result is a kind of synthwave religion. The characters in this virtual world know that they are nothing more than a few lines of code, and therefore worship the algorithms and the Maker who shaped their world. The Maker is their God, the way His efficient code flows through all life is the Holy Spirit. Narita Boy is the Messiah.
The game is a feast for the eyes. The pixel-like graphics are extremely detailed and varied. Sometimes a single neon stripe in the background is enough to outline the surroundings, other times entire sandy plains or lakes stretch out in the background. It is the techno cathedrals that impress, full of colored rays, worshiping monks and blinking computers. The handcrafted animations are flawless too, from the rearing of your techno horse to your blistering sword attacks.
There is more to do than marvel at the surroundings, because there is also a lot of fighting. The evil armies of a power-hungry algorithm are on the verge of ruining things, but Narita Boy has a very powerful sword that kills them (read: neutralizes their corrupt code). The combat system is fine, although it doesn’t really excel at anything. In stationary screens you learn the patterns of your enemies, then dodge their attacks and hit back hard.
There are some special moves to master, like a big laser beam or a devastating stab attack, but you don’t seem to need most of it. For example, there is a complicated system with three colored attacks, where you can charge yourself red, yellow or blue to do more damage to enemies of the same color. We still didn’t fully understand the system at the end of the game, but we didn’t need that damage boost either. It makes the game unnecessarily inimitable, while the standard skills would have been fine.
Another downside to the controls is the driftiness of the jumps. It doesn’t feel precise enough, especially for the advanced platform work that is sometimes required of you. Jumping on small islands is no fun, but especially avoiding enemy bullets is much too difficult because you cannot estimate how high you are going to jump.
The biggest point of criticism is the somewhat boring set-up of the game, which contrasts sharply with the wonderful world you walk around in. Every time you enter a new area, your goal is to find someone. That person is behind a door, for which you need a key. That key is behind another door, for which the key is somewhere else, guarded by an enemy. Effectively you are looking for a key almost every moment of the game, and that gets a bit boring.