Studio Koba's retro-future 2D action platformer, Narita Boy is the developer's debut project that was designed with the plan to "create unique and bizarre experiences for the player with astonishing visuals, incredible stories, amazing gameplay." And, after playing through the game, I can confidently say that Narita Boy has just achieved that.
The perplexing story at the centre of Narita Boy sees you explore a vast virtual world known as the Digital Kingdom to restore the memories of the all-important Creator. The story is set within the 1980s, and the aforementioned Creator is the mastermind behind a top-selling video game console known as the Narita One. Somehow the real world and that of the creator's best-selling game Narita Boy have fused together and it's up to you to come to the rescue. If you had a bit of trouble following that, then don't worry, you're not alone! The story might be a little hard to comprehend, but luckily, the gameplay more than makes up for it.
Gameplay within Narita Boy is a mix between combat encounters, platforming, and puzzle solving. Narita Boy's melee-focused combat is fluid and fast-paced and there are many different abilities that you'll unlock as you progress. Using the Techno Sword, you can perform slashes in every direction, and there are charged special moves that you can use too, with one turning your blade into a shotgun and another turning it into a laser beam. The enemy variety here is really varied and often you'll have to fight against several different enemies who have their own different attack patterns and behaviours at the very same time.
Along with these close-quarters battles against enemies, there are also many powerful bosses that offer a challenge and prove to be a visual spectacle. Some of the most creative of these saw me fighting against fire-breathing dragons, laser-blasting parrots, and giant razor-toothed fish. The encounters themselves amp up the challenge, but fortunately, Narita Boy is pretty generous with its checkpoints.
When it comes to the platforming aspects of the game, I really like how your abilities in combat translate over and are used within the same way. You'll need to use the same dash for avoiding attacks to scale gaps, for example, and the same downward attack used to punish enemies is required to shatter obstacles in your path. There's a great sense of familiarity here between both gameplay styles, and as a result, they feel tightly connected. Something that I did find, however, is that the up slash ability felt imprecise and this led to several unfair deaths when I needed to use it to propel myself over oncoming projectiles.
When working to restore The Creator's memories you have a checklist of different objectives to complete and these often see you searching for digital keys to unlock doors to new areas. There is a tremendous amount of backtracking required here, which makes it a real shame that Narita Boy doesn't include a map or a system for you to track certain objectives. If you return to the game after days of not playing, it can be confusing to remember what you need to do next unless you go back and meticulously check all of the areas you've been before.
You'll also encounter several puzzles along your journey that you'll need to solve to activate portals between different areas. These puzzles admittedly feel really repetitive, as they continually require you to enter in the correct combination of coloured symbols. The correct symbols can usually be found scattered throughout the nearby area, so it encourages you to explore and to interact with the objects around you. This is something that I would have liked to have seen expanded upon, as I just found myself growing bored and guessing the combination until I got it correct. The fact I didn't get punished for this made it more tempting.
A special shout-out needs to be given to Narita's absolutely magical soundtrack. The 80s synth pop tunes here perfectly emphasise the retro-future aesthetic, and I found many of the tracks to be stuck in my head long after putting down my Nintendo Switch. The pixelated visuals aren't too shabby here either, and I like how an optional CRT filter is present to really capture the feel that you're playing hardware released during the same era the game is set in.
It's narrative might have given me a headache, but I was still pretty impressed with everything that Narita Boy had to offer. Its retro-future setting is beautifully realised through some sleek pixel art and an addictive 80s synth pop soundtrack, and its combat is fast-paced, varied, and fluid. That said, it does have a couple of shortcomings that hold it back from greatness. Some of its platforming mechanics feel imprecise, its puzzles are frequently repeated, and there isn't a robust system in place for tracking objectives.
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