Platform: Xbox One/Series, PS4/PS5, PC, Nintendo Switch
Genre: 2D Action Game With Tron’s Plotline
The best kinds of stories do not have to be original written works. Otherwise, nothing will get done. Narita Boy’s “stranger in a strange-yet-familiar land” isekai tale is a familiar story if you’ve seen films like Tron, even right up to the digital world and retro stylings. You play the title character, who happens to be a kid sucked into the Digital Kingdom and is put in charge of stopping an evil red program called HIM who is terrorizing the place. You also have to help unlock the memories of the world’s Creator so that whoever this entity is can help you stop HIM.
So, after its humble Kickstarter beginnings in 2017 up until its developer Studio Koba managed to get publishing help from Team17, is Narita Boy a worthy odyssey for your time? Yes it is, though its 2D Metroidvania platforming needs a bit more work.
I’ll say this: Narita Boy’s aesthetics are about as retro and as purposefully murky as you can get. The game’s digital world from deserts to forests are pixel-drawn to loving detail. The characters from your title swordwielder to even the random chatty-catty NPCs here just look good moving around and remaining in their idle state.
Still, as hypnotic as the world of Narita Boy is, it can get really busy and confusing. This is apparent in later stages where the reds in the colour palette are really strong and there’s a lot of foreground clutter going on. Thankfully, you can turn on the soft filters so that the “80s” retro-look is toned down and is less strenuous on the eyes. I felt the burn after a couple of hours staring at Narita Boy’s gorgeous-yet-busy filter-laden artwork. It can be a bit much if your eyes aren’t trained to endure such saturation and unique lighting.
How’s the game though? Like I said, the Digital Kingdom and its many coloured Houses are divided into sections -Metroidvania style- each with their own semi open-ended areas for Narita Boy to explore. You fight a lot of HIM’s enemies ranging from zombies to even shielded foes, as well as annoying bats and programs flying Red Baron-esque fighter planes.
You also have to do a lot of platforming and also use items and techniques you get to ascend to higher platforms or traverse certain obstacles. These range from sword moves like the Uppercut that lets you jump higher than usual, and the Shoulder Dash that destroys barricades that block your way. When it comes to the fighting and basic movement, Narita Boy gets really fun. I never had any issue with the fighting and combat controls. Narita Boy’s sword swipes are fine and combo really well, as well as comes with cancel properties so you can attack and cancel to a dash to dodge oncoming attacks.
After much practising and getting the timing down pat, killing off zombies while also comboing your sword strikes to your shotgun/laser charge blasts become intuitive after the first hour or so. With more moves like the aforementioned Uppercut and Shoulder Dash, you also get more opportunities to attack enemies from the air, or even avoid attacks altogether and prep for a counterattack.
The boss fights are also challenging without being utterly unfair. From a program that shoots out pixelated blocks at you to a disappearing-and-reappearing white-cloaked ghost giant, defeating them is a clear case of figuring out their patterns. Standard stuff, but it’s done in a pretty exhilarating way that makes you wish Narita Boy came with a boss rush mode post-completion.
This brings us to a niggling point: Narita Boy’s other controls are hit-and-miss. Just moving inch-by-inch precisely during non-fighting bits can be troublesome as Narita’s default movement speed doesn’t allow him to tip-toe to certain parts of the floor.
Sometimes, it takes a few extra unnecessary seconds just to place Narita Boy in line with the door so that he can go to the next room. Jumping in Narita Boy can also be awkward, because his jump arc can sometimes not make him land precisely on a platform. Short of pressing down to do an instant vertical quick drop, Narita Boy’s jumping physics is all over the place. Don’t act too shocked if you’re taking way longer than you should when doing a jumping puzzle. This also gets aggravating when you also have to unnecessarily backtrack through previous locations a couple of times. You also don’t get a map, meaning you have to commit a number of pathways and areas to heart. With the levels being pretty expansive and the game lasting about 7 hours or so, you will get lost quite a bit.
For context, I played Narita Boy right after completing another Metroidvania action title Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth. The latter game’s controls just blows the former out of the water.
Narita Boy’s gameplay and challenges are invigorating and exciting, but nowhere near the level and polish of other Metroidvania titles with spot-on controls and feel. Still, I would recommend you power through Narita Boy just for its plot and aesthetics alone. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say there’s a big reason why the game’s narrative uses a lot of Japanese symbolism throughout the Digital Kingdom, and why the colours red, yellow, and blue are prominent in its design. Dive deep in this immersive 2D pixel-savvy world Studio Koba has created; just mind the controls.
- Fun boss fights & enemy gauntlets.
- Sweet combat controls that rely on sword swipes and dodging.
- Beautiful graphics & artwork.
- Great plot that fleshes out the motives of the world.
- Awkward platforming controls & movement.
- Some areas have terrible backtracking methods and layout.
- Default aesthetics can be a headache to some.