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Review: Narita Boy

Video transcription below:

Narita Boy, developed by Studio Koba, is an indie action platformer with a distinct retro aesthetic. The game has you playing as the titular Digital Hero on a quest to save the digital and physical worlds from the evil Stallions, led by a corrupt digital entity named Him. On your quest, you’ll travel through three distinct zones, learning new abilities and fighting formidable foes while trying to restore the memories of The Creator, the programmer of this digital world.

Narita Boy oozes an 80s atmosphere. Everything about this game, including the chiptune soundtrack, CRT TV filter, and retro pixel art style harkens back to a nostalgic time when video games were new and full of mystery. The gameplay feels true to the era, with some modern enhancements, such as frequent checkpoints, infinite lives, and an objective log. The main gameplay loop of Narita Boy consists of some light platforming, with many single-screen, arena-style battles with multiple waves of enemies. Outside of that, you will be exploring the game world, looking for keys and power-ups to help you proceed on your quest to restore the Creator’s memories in a last-ditch attempt to defeat the evil Him.

The story of Narita Boy is a story of two worlds. The meta-story follows the Creator, the man responsible for the creation of the digital world, and is revealed to you as you uncover his memories. You learn about his entire life, from his troubled upbringing to his later adult years. As you uncover more of the Creator’s memories, you come to understand the circumstances that led to the creation of the digital world you inhabit. On the other side of the story, which you learn from conversations with NPCs in the digital world, you learn about Him’s rise to power, and how the Creator’s life informed the lore of this world. While this sounds interesting, I found Narita Boy’s story to be quite predictable. Additionally, the conversations you have with the NPCs have so much exposition that they can drag on for longer than necessary, filling the screen with walls of text boxes to read. I feel like this was done with the best intentions, in an attempt to add some worldbuilding to the game, but the execution is a bit clunky.

Gameplay in Narita Boy is similarly lackluster. Combat is simple enough, with easy to remember controls. You have a 3-hit attack that you can charge, a dodge and a bash attack, and a special that draws from a regenerating pool of ammo. Additionally, you have a power meter that fills up when attacking enemies that you can use to regenerate health or unleash special screen filling attacks using the game’s rock-paper-scissors like elemental system. This system works by allowing you to charge up with either red, blue, or yellow energy, after which you deal and take extra damage from enemies of the same color. While it adds a little extra challenge to the game by forcing you to juggle a couple different colors of enemies every once in a while, this system feels more like a tacked-on justification for the game’s inclusion of the three distinct zones of the digital world. It doesn’t end up impacting the gameplay very much, and isn’t even used in the final boss fight of the game, which honestly felt like a missed opportunity.

On a more fundamental level, the combat also feels too light and doesn’t give enough feedback to the player. I would often find myself questioning who hit who in some of the game’s more hectic fights. It also doesn’t help that nearly all the particle effects and standard enemies are the same red color, something that contributed to a visually muddy combat experience. I feel like this could have been fixed by adding more visually distinct enemies and particles, or more punchy sound effects and hitstun for hits.

The movement and platforming is similarly plagued by a lack of weight, but thankfully the game doesn’t challenge you much in this department. What did frustrate me here though, was the amount of needless backtracking the game forces you to endure. Often, a door in one location will be locked until you find a key in a room nearby, but sometimes you’ll have to go back and forth through a couple different rooms until the game finally allows you to proceed. There’s usually almost no challenge here, aside from the occasional fight, but often there will be nothing in these extra rooms except for the key. It makes me feel like this was only done to pad out the length of the game, instead of adding any substance.

The gameplay’s rough edges are made even more apparent by Narita Boy’s excellent pixel art and the amount of work put into its aesthetic. The digital world’s three zones, while all almost entirely sticking to either a red, blue, or yellow monochrome color palette, are very distinctly different from each other, not just in their landscapes, but also their themes. They each have their own side stories and lore that provide context to the game’s techno-religious theme. A more general 80s retro aesthetic is present throughout the entire game, and holds these separate mini-themes together well. This retro look and feel is very strong and borderlines on cheesy at times, but always knows just when to pull back. Overall, I love the way Narita Boy looks and sounds.

Ultimately, Narita Boy is a game with a solid foundation that misses the mark. Its great pixel art and old-school aesthetic is charming and entertaining, but the gameplay just doesn’t feel like it has the same amount of polish. If there were fewer awkwardly long text boxes, less annoying backtracking, and a generally more weighty combat system, this game would truly be great. As it is, Narita Boy is a great looking game that is unfortunately held back by its gameplay.

Heisengerm Rating: 2/5

Developer: Studio Koba Publisher: Team 17 Platform: PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, PS4, Nintendo Switch Release date: March 30th, 2021

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