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Narita Boy Review – Easier On The Eyes

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Narita Boy’s sleek presentation caught my eye before I even picked up my scanned sword. The 1980s tributes are almost played out, but Studio Koba’s action title manages to reinvent that cool retro style with an imaginative presentation that goes even further than “let’s just snap neon lights and grid lines all over the place.” Narita Boy’s gameplay doesn’t quite live up to its killer appearance, but if you can handle a few headaches, it ends up being an enjoyable adventure.

I cannot stress enough the quality of Narita Boy’s presentation. Studio Koba borrows a lot from Tron in that the entire game takes place in a computer world known as the Digital Kingdom. Your goal: to eradicate an evil program and restore the memories of the human creator of the Kingdom. This monarchy, made up of a desert kingdom and a coastal village, among others, feels fully realized, both in visual design and in lore. The synthwave soundtrack is awesome, and the CRT-style overlay is the ensemble’s chief kiss. I loved admiring the art of Narita Boy, and even those who lacked programming knowledge or nostalgia for the times should appreciate the creativity on display, like “what if digital horses were just computer platforms to four legs?”

Narita Boy plays almost as well as he looks. Much of the combat is about some satisfying hack n ‘slash action using your legendary sword, but you also have a shotgun side arm. The shotgun looks cooler on paper than in practice; I forget it regularly because it never seems useful or necessary to me. Killing enemies starts off as a basic affair but becomes more robust and entertaining, as you unlock new sword attacks and screen blank summons. Another interesting benefit is color-coded power-ups; it allows you to more easily kill enemies of the same color (represented by a flame), but at the risk of taking more damage yourself. Best of all, Narita Boy distributes new abilities and mechanics right through to the very end, including unique and polished sequences like piloting a giant version of yourself.

You will need all the help you can get, because Narita Boy is not a walk in the park. The game features a plethora of difficult enemy types and has no problem dumping them on all players which feels overwhelming at times. There’s a fun challenge in how to use your arsenal of moves to take out combinations of very different opponents, but certain types of enemies are difficult to fight. For example, an armored enemy with a nearly impassable shield was never fun to deal with, and I always moaned when it appeared. The worst part about getting your pixelated butt back is the inconsistent checkpoints that seem almost arbitrary. Some get you close to where you died, but too often you are pushed further than you expected.

The fight is not perfect but offers a good time overall. I wish I could say the same for the platform. Jumping is steep, slippery and floating at the same time. I often land on a ledge only for the sensitive movement to take over me. Jumping from wall to wall may take multiple attempts due to your character’s wood feeling. Upgrades like a soaring sword attack / high jump are not satisfactory because you cannot use it as a true double jump and it is difficult to shoot the Up and Attack buttons at the same time in hectic scenarios.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the game were largely action with a basic platforming, but Narita Boy hesitates by regularly introducing obstacle courses that he doesn’t feel equipped for. Riding a computer horse sounds great until you crash through spikes that you can’t reliably dodge thanks to your character’s deliberate animations. The same goes for surfing on a giant floppy disk; it’s great in concept, less in execution. It becomes especially irritating in combat. A boss throws energy cubes which require precise dodging; I crushed half of them and my survival came down to having enough health to absorb the onslaught.

Yet even though I didn’t like to carefully jump between platforms and yell “come on!” After failing in another tough fight arena, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Narita Boy’s style once the dust settled. I love every square inch of its wonderfully designed world, and the gameplay is good enough to lead the adventure. In a way, it’s like starting an old computer. If you can handle the bulky interface and outdated design, there’s a beauty and appreciation in how it still manages to get the job done.

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