Developer: Studio Koba
Publisher: Team 17
Genre: Platformer, Arcade, Strategy, Role-Playing
Platform: Nintendo Switch (also available on XB1, PS4 and Steam)
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 30/03/2021
A code was provided for review purposes.
Narita Boy is a linear action platformer. Narita Boy must recover the lost memories of the in-game “developer” to restore the Digital Kingdom to peace and harmony. Fight through hordes of enemies, meet interesting characters, and save the world in Narita Boy.
Many action platformers simply rely on their gameplay being good and do not include a meaningful story. The developers of Narita Boy chose to take a different approach and fully fleshed out the world and story. The story is not only explanatory at a basic level for younger players, but also offers social commentary on addiction and loss.
The story is mainly conveyed through dialogue between the player and other characters. While there is little character development, the story discusses various events that occurred in the Digital Kingdom, and how characters are handling issues that surfaced. The story is extremely vast, forcing the player to learn new terminology and understand many events that took place. Though this may seem overwhelming, the game explains each event thoroughly and offers context to ensure the player is properly informed. In addition to meeting characters and engaging in dialogue with non-playable characters, the game provides flashbacks about the life of the in-game “developer”. These flashbacks offer social commentary and keep the player engaged throughout the game.
No Troubles with Task List
While the narrative is enjoyable, there will be some players who do not wish to immerse themselves. Skipping dialogue scenes may be detrimental to the gameplay, as the tasks delegated to the player may be missed. The game attempts to remedy this by giving the player a task list. At any point, the player can pull up a list of assigned tasks to ensure they do not get lost. This is especially helpful to players that ignore the dialogue. Moreover, this benefits players who have not played the game in a long time, helping them remember the tasks they are supposed to complete. The list of tasks helps keep players on track to completing the game and allow people to enjoy the game in the way they want to play it.
Although the story was pleasant, Narita Boy’s narrative is by no means the selling point of the game. It is supplementary to the gameplay, music design, and visuals. The story design choices made by Studio Koba were phenomenal and immersed me in the game world but would not stand on their own without a foundation of solid gameplay.
Fortunately, Narita Boy provides excellent gameplay. Slashing through enemies is satisfying, and the character is extremely responsive. The Narita Boy is equipped with a jump, dashes, and many other moves that get unlocked as the player progresses. The gameplay ensures that players are engaged regardless of whether they are immersed in the story.
The player traverses throughout a variety of unique environments. Each environment is unique and focuses on a simple, central theme. The level design is quite enjoyable. The player is frequently tasked with collecting keys that open more of the map. While this may seem tedious, the developers implement story elements along the way and continue to have the player fighting enemies. Although exploring the world is exciting, at times it can be frustrating to navigate because the developers omitted a world map. Generally, all places of interest are in close quarters with each other, meaning they are not incredibly difficult to find. Regardless, a map would have helped the player find their way through the world, making navigation simpler. Despite the lack of a map, navigating the world is enjoyable due to gorgeous environments and properly placed enemies.
In addition to well-made levels, the game offers excellent enemy design. From zombies to witches to sacrificial totems, enemies both fit the theme of the game and offer variety. Enemies are always introduced in isolation, allowing the player to get accustomed to their capabilities before combatting hordes of enemies. Moreover, most enemy designs are fun to counter. Some enemies detonate on death, forcing the player to use their dash. Others require the player to dash through them or jump over them. The enemy designs take full use of the strengths of the player, and new enemies are frequently introduced.
In addition to basic enemies, Narita Boy features intense boss fights. Though many of the earlier bosses are less difficult, later bosses become truly challenging. Learning enemy patterns is required to have a chance. One of the best-designed battles was against a pirate. Instead of being vulnerable everywhere, the player needs to find the weak point and capitalize when opportunity strikes. This forces the player to not only focus on the pirate’s attacks but to notice when the right time to move closer to the target is. Additionally, due to frequent checkpoints, dying to a boss rarely inconveniences the player, encouraging them to try as many times as they need. This allowed the boss fights to be challenging without discouraging the player. Some of the boss fights could have benefitted from additional difficulty, but the boss fights were done well, especially the later ones.
The levels and enemies are not the only thing that develop. As the player progresses, they gain new abilities and powers. One thing Narita Boy does well is the implementation of unique upgrades. For example, the player can ride a floppy disk like a surfboard or transform into a giant. With the Blue Wildfire upgrade, the player can cast an aura on themselves that allows them to do more damage to enemies with a blue flame on their head. Instead of stopping there, the developers decided to add risk to this decision. Under the effects of this aura, the player becomes more vulnerable to enemies with blue fire as well. The upgrades offered in Narita Boy differentiate this game from others, and motivate the player to find the next, even more interesting upgrade.
The gameplay is consistently excellent. There are small exploration segments where the player is tasked with finding glyphs to unlock a teleporter, boss fights, and platforming gauntlets that fall seamlessly into one game. The developers offered significant variety while maintaining the game’s identity throughout. Playing the game feels incredible!
As if Narita Boy was not already complete, the chip-tune soundtrack was phenomenal. The music is incredibly catchy and did not grow old. Moreover, the sound effects were extremely effective. Killing each enemy produced a delightful sound effect and the developers even included sounds signifying to the player could use certain abilities. The sound design was excellent.
The visuals are also incredible. The game conveys an impressive amount of emotion through the pixel art. Every landscape is stunning, and the character designs are excellent as well. Not only does the art look gorgeous, but the visuals help instruct the player. For example, in the desert, there is quicksand that kills the player. Although the game never explicitly tells the player that it is lethal, the player is shown people dying in quicksand before encountering it themselves.
Unfortunately, Narita Boy does not offer extensive amounts of replay value. While there is an additional memory only unlockable for those dedicated to finding the secret pieces of the memory card, players will most likely not be tempted to replay the game, as the player sees all there is to see the first time they play the game. Additionally, the game only takes a little over five hours to complete. Despite the short length, the time spent with the game is incredible. Completing the game almost felt like a punishment because players will want to continue playing.
The game ran very smoothly for the most part though there were a few stutters. These were infrequent and did not heavily impact the game. Also, the game crashed once. Overall, the game performed well, but there were some minor issues.
Narita Boy is an excellent game. It offers an engaging story, detailed visuals, and great gameplay. The main gripe is that there should be more of it. Studio Koba has set an extremely high bar with this title. I look forward to seeing what they create in the future. I loved my experience with this game.
Rapid Reviews Rating
4.5 out of 5
You can purchase Narita Boy from the Nintendo eShop here
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.