Picture the scene. You are sitting at home, minding your own business, playing a game, and suddenly you are sucked into your computer. The machine and yourself become one; you are now the young hero who is called upon to save the day. This is the premise behind Narita Boy, an 80s inspired, pixelated, synth-wave fuelled adventure.
Developed by Studio Koba and published by Team17, this mystery puzzle adventure has you controlling the hero Narita Boy. A sword wielding adventurer who is awash with a striking blue hue. This is the colour of positivity, and all things that are good. You must battle the forces of the red army. These evil beings wish to take over the 3 colours that make up this world. If they succeed, the war is lost, and everyone is doomed.
Narita Boy has a simple story told in a convoluted way!
The young boy gets dragged into the digital world created by Lionel Pearl. He is a genius hardware and software developer who has spent his days making this glorious retro landscape. His program is attacked by a virus known as HIM! This malicious pest seeks to take his work and make it his own. By doing so, he’ll steal Lionel’s memories, and unbalance the peace in the virtual world. Up steps Narita Boy, an unlikely hero who must defeat every enemy he faces. He will learn new code to improve his skills, this is essential as it’ll increase his chances of survival against the red army.
This is Narita Boy in a nutshell! Studio Koba confuses the situation with its convoluted dialogue, techno waffle, and many characters that diluted the plot and muddied the waters. I mostly spent my time with a confused look on my face. My task was relatively simple to achieve, yet I spent my time working out what the NPCs were saying to me. It was sadly an avoidable mess. However, it doesn’t prevent you from playing the game, but it tarnishes the enjoyment factor a little.
So much potential, yet it plateaus.
With inspiration from 80s classics such as Castlevania and Double Dragon, this had such potential to ooze retro charm. Unfortunately, it’s constant back-and-forth style rarely takes off. Quests follow a similar pattern; go to point A, meditate or defeat monsters, and return to point B. The simplicity rarely challenges and lacks any depth for you to get your teeth into. It’s 8 to 10 hours of enjoyable, repetitive gameplay. This will probably put off gamers who crave some variety, but the monotony is worth your time. If you can stomach it, you’ll experience some wonderfully smooth animations, interesting attacks, and aggressive synthesised music.
Though it plateaus early, it isn’t all doom and gloom. No, it contains some really poignant moments as you find each of Lionel’s stolen memories. You’ll be treated to a trip through the pivotal moments that made this genius who he is. From his earliest childhood memories, to visions of the current day. You’ll learn what makes him tick, and these moments are worth trudging through the reasonably flat gameplay.
The game treats you to some odd and surreal moments that break up the tedium. You’ll travel through some glorious neon backdrops as a glowing stag, or an enormous hulking robot that’ll smash up everything in its path. It’s a nice distraction, but it doesn’t take away from what haunts Narita Boy! And that is its painfully simplistic gameplay.
Disappointing combat, and simple puzzles.
The combat had such potential to be fantastic. Its strong foundations use Hack ‘n’ Slash mechanics at its core. Using the Techno Sword is a visual spectacle and the animations are smooth, vibrant and a joy to look at. This goes one step further with a high-powered beam and a shotgun being utilised as well. Sadly, this is the extent of the combat system. From such potential to repetitive; slashing, dodging and shooting. It was a shame, and I wish the developers had built upon the early promise.
The disappointment doesn’t end there, sadly. Easy puzzles and limited platforming difficulty make up the rest of the gameplay. Puzzles comprise simple tricolour patterns that must be correctly selected. The clues are dotted around each section, and solving each problem allowed you to collect a key to progress. The challenge doesn’t increase in the platform portion; jump, sprint and climb your way to your goal. It’s mildly entertaining, but it’s failure to evolve holds it back and it doesn’t fulfil its potential.
Its presentation pulls it through.
Though I was disappointed with many elements, I was amazed by its presentation. In-depth and interesting landscapes make up most of the levels. Vivid colours, well designed sprites and dreamlike scenes accompany you as you venture across each coloured section. As mentioned already, the animation is wonderfully smooth, and fills you unfairly with hope of an amazing experience that sadly never materialises.
The audio also gives the impression that an action-packed adventure filled with highs and lows awaits you. The synth-wave sounds, screams I’m inspired by the 80s! The robotic instruments and heavy beats match the neon hue and metallic look. Though I loved the audio, it didn’t match the flat gameplay, and did its best to raise me up before I came crashing back down with a bump. What was brilliant, however, was the “Altered Beast” style voice-over work when you died. The sharp and meaty voice captured the sense of failure perfectly, and though it became an irritant, it matches the game perfectly.
Fiddly to play.
Though it lacked the finesse of other platform titles, and it didn’t have the normal mechanics we’ve all come to expect. It still contained a considerable amount of complex moves. As you unlock power-ups, you are introduced to another combination of buttons that must be pressed. Memorising them all became a challenge. You rely heavily on the basic dodge and attack functions to make it through, and this means the combat mechanic is further stunted.
Narita Boy had the potential to offer so much replay value. Unfortunately, the one playthrough was enough for me. Achievements can and will be missed, and only the most hardcore of hunters will replay this to get the 100% status.
Narita Boy is a wasted opportunity.
I hate talking negatively about a game, especially one that has many plus points. But I can’t get away from the many missed opportunities that have slipped away. Everything about this is serviceable, and you have a game that can be enjoyed on a simple level. The memory portion is phenomenal, and should be commended. The audio and graphics are equally good, but I can’t overlook its failings. It plateaus so early on that I couldn’t get past the monotonous nature of its gameplay. Even its surreal imagery and crazy dialogue couldn’t pull this out of the rut it created.
There is plenty going for Narita Boy, but there is an awful lot that stacks up against it. It is available on Gamepass, so you can try it for free if you subscribe. A copy can also be purchased here! I’m on the fence, but I think the memories push it to a title you should try. Can you save Lionel’s world from HIM? Bring the colours together and become the hero of this digital land.