Developer: Studio Koba
There was a time, dear reader when I tried to finish every game I had to review to make sure of my opinions on it. Though I still try to give everything its fair shake, there are occasions where I either cannot bring myself to keep playing a game or I simply don’t have the time to see it all the way through. Narita Boy, an action-platformer with heavy 80s aesthetics, unfortunately, fell into the former category.
I should qualify before I say any more that the gameplay of Narita Boy isn’t completely atrocious, it’s just that there are some pretty key aspects that mar what could have otherwise been a solid title. The most aggravating of these is that the game occasionally requires some relatively precise platforming – nothing on the level of, say, Super Meat Boy, but there are many times when a series of platforms across bottomless pits are very small targets to land on. Honestly, it probably wouldn’t even be an issue if not for how floaty the controls are. The player character slides around way too much, both on the ground and in the air, so these segments end up being a lot more obnoxious than they need to be. On top of that, a lack of visual clarity means that it’s not always immediately clear what the path forward in a platforming section is. Though Narita Boy’s pixel art and environments are generally attractive and well designed, platforms often blend into the background and make it difficult to tell that something is indeed a platform you can land on. The frustrations brought about by this are two-fold: it makes its way too easy to fall into a pit because you thought it was solid ground and there are times where you look all around an area trying to figure out the path forward only to realize that it was right in front of you the whole time. Nothing brings my enthusiasm for a game to a grinding halt faster than having no idea where I’m even supposed to go.
The combat portions of this action-platformer don’t fare much better. The player character is equipped with a special sword that can also act as a shotgun or a screen-clearing hyper beam (with a delay between uses of that) but honestly the hyper beam is the only attack that has a proper oomph to it. Rather than actually feeling like a sword, swinging your weapon at enemies feels more like using a very lame baseball bat – not helped by the charge attack being referred to as “Home Run” – with an underwhelming sense of impact. Even the most basic enemies are damage sponges which make the combat monotonous and boring, especially since it’s not even particularly difficult; the player character has lots of health as well, so everything just ends up taking way longer than it needs to with not much risk of actually dying. As a final note on the combat, the player’s attack animations are off-putting, which is another thing that wouldn’t feel like a big deal if not for the other issues.
Narita Boy isn’t totally without its merits: as I mentioned earlier, the pixel art and environment design look good, and it feels like a shame I didn’t get to see more of the gorgeous world that the developers created. The sound design is similarly engaging, with catchy synth beats that effectively set a variety of moods across even the few scenes I witnessed. On that note, I also wish that I was able to get through more of the game because what little I saw of the story seemed intriguing. The game follows an adolescent boy who gets sucked into a video game so that he can restore the memories of its creator, and in doing so he views the memories that he restores. I only got far enough to see one such memory, but it struck me as being very heartfelt and sincere, genuinely touching in a way that most nostalgia-trip games aren’t. I would have liked to see more of where the plot was going, but I simply don’t enjoy playing the game enough to power through it.
Narita Boy definitely has some good ideas and on the whole, I don’t hate it, but its execution of them is so consistently flawed that I can’t bring myself to like it either. More than anything else, I was just plain bored during the time I spent with it. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who will be able to look past the floaty controls and dull combat for the sake of experiencing the story, but I’m not one of them.
Narita Boy is a game that gets in its own way too much for me to give it a recommendation.