Narita Boy is the first release from independent developer Studio Koba. Originally funded via Kickstarter in April 2017, it is a game with both retro inspirations and values. However, in overall look and feel, Narita Boy is anything but old-fashioned. Contained within this 4-6 hour experience is a unique, thought-provoking action-adventure title filled to the brim with 80s style, classic tech references, incredible music, and a moving story.
The game opens with a programmer known as “The Creator” being attacked by his own invention. In the middle of coding his Narita One console, the screen turns red and his memories are all locked away by a mysterious villain known as HIM. For reasons unknown to us at the beginning, this attack was predicted, and it initiated the summoning protocol of Narita Boy. Across the city, a boy awakens to his Narita One’s blinking screen. Upon touching the unit he is transported to the Digital Kingdom as Narita Boy to save The Creator’s memories.
Visually this game has been hand-crafted as an homage to everything 1980s. From the pixelated characters to the hand crafted backdrops, every graphical component of Narita Boy cohesively joins to create a beautiful and believable setting. Many unique areas are explored throughout the game, all with their own style and ambiance. From the arrival in the Digital Kingdom on the beautiful Hero’s Summit to the murky blue waters of Floppy Island, Narita Boy oozes atmosphere. The flashback scenes when unlocking The Creator’s memories remind me of the graphics characteristic of old Sierra adventure games in all the best ways.
Themes of yellow, red, and blue permeate the entire game. Not only do these colours represent the inhabitants and regions, but also symbolize holistic components of The Creator’s very being. I know that sounds like a lot, but bear with me. All three colours (known as the Trichroma) are required for balance, so when the red program HIM rebelled, it put the entire Digital Kingdom, and The Creator, in peril. Puzzles, abilities, and the narrative all creatively revolve around this colour concept. Puzzles often require you to find three hidden symbols (one of each colour) to solve. The Techno Sword Narita Boy obtains contains the very essence of the Trichroma, and the heroes he meets grant him powers based on each of the colours. The consistency in which the Trichroma is used as the reasoning behind the world design, disasters within the game world, and character progression creates a refreshingly unique fictional universe.
Gameplay in Narita Boy consists of exploring areas, solving puzzles, recovering memories, and getting new abilities;all while smashing anyone opposing saving the Digital Kingdom with your Techno Sword. Progressing through the story is mostly a straight line. Areas feel large and filled with life, but once you complete them there is no going back. No critical abilities or story elements can be missed, but forward momentum is always maintained by not allowing the player to backtrack needlessly through the game world.
It is important to speak to inhabitants while exploring in order to stay on task in Narita Boy. Any time I was lost or unsure of where to go next, there was always an NPC I missed speaking to that gave me the information I needed to make sense of my next steps. Puzzles often require a keen eye and occasionally some note taking in order to remember the symbols required, or the name of a building with a keystone to return to. Missing out on any of these details will definitely give you the impression of having to aimlessly wander, which is never actually necessary.
Combat throughout Narita Boy always feels fresh and interesting by the addition of new abilities and fun sequences in each world you visit. After finding the Techno Sword, it isn’t long before you have a damage avoiding dash move, a rising slice to reach new heights, and even a floppy disk to cross water (to name a few). Boss encounters test your mastery of newly acquired skills, and are some of the game’s best moments. Taking out the first boss, Lord VHS, as he warps around throwing tape-spewing VHS cassettes at you was a great tone setting first fight. They only got better as the game progressed. One of my personal favourites was Black Rainbow, whose design was equal parts terrifying and cool.
Experiencing The Creator’s memories are a break from the action, and provide the meat of the game’s story. After cleansing a memory shrine, Narita Boy may enter to relive and recover a fragment of The Creator’s past. A surprisingly intelligent and emotional journey is contained within. Learning the history of The Creator and his Digital Kingdom piece by piece was expertly delivered. Saying any more would do you an injustice, as I would never want to spoil something so integral to the game’s overall enjoyment.
Speaking of enjoyment, the soundtrack in Narita Boy is brilliant. The title theme gives you a taste of the game with an 80’s synth tune, complete with lyrics. Every area, boss fight, and memory has its own track; with a special surprise waiting for those who make it to the end credits. The music perfectly sets the tone in every situation, and truly adds to the magic of the Digital Kingdom. I’ve found myself humming the catchy tunes to myself outside of playing the game, which usually prompts loading a playlist and jamming out.
This game really spoke to me. Its 80’s vibe (both graphically and acoustically) fit perfectly with the story it told. Narita Boy filled me with joy, sadness, and excitement through my two full playthroughs. Every time the credits rolled I was simultaneously content with my experience and yearning for a sequel. I will definitely play this game again, just for the fun of it.