Disaster has struck the Digital Kingdom. Him has stuck and only you can defeat him. Narita Boy is the newest entry into the Metroidvania genre coming to us on March 30th, 2021 and is the debut title from Studio Koba. In this love letter to the 80s, you play as the titular character as you are tasked by the Motherboard to defeat the villain known as Him. Him has attacked The Creator and thrown the Digital Kingdom into disarray with his army of evil soldiers known as Stallions. In these times of desperation, Narita Boy, the Digital Hero, was activated to stop Him. Draw your tricolored TechnoSword!

Gameplay

Narita Boy’s gameplay is where the game shines, particularly in its combat. Your character is fast, with several movement options like a fast fall and a dodge, offense abilities like a sword slash, shotgun blast, and heavy damage laser beam. These options reward aggressive and evasive gameplay, which provides a deeper combat system than can normally be found in standard Metroidvania games. It feels great to weave through enemy attacks to riddle them with cuts and slashes. Our character will float in the air for a bit so long as you’re hitting an enemy with melee attacks, allowing you to deal with more durable airborne enemies for longer than a few seconds.

One overarching issue is that instead of having enemies wander throughout the gameworld, the game opts to put the player into encounters, blocking your progression to fight a group of enemies. Nothing wrong with that, however these encounters are not frequent enough and when combat is the strongest point of the game, I found myself feeling a bit starved of it. I had only found one room in which enemies wander free of the confines of a scripted encounter and it was before I had even acquired the TechnoSword, so they were more obstacles than enemies. Furthermore, the scripted combat encounters do not repeat themselves and are placed only along the intended path of progression, this being the game’s only indicator that you are indeed going the correct way. My least favorite part was the time I’d spent running around trying to find the door a key goes into; the person that gave it to me was too busy telling me lore to give me any idea on where the key goes, leaving me to wonder why there isn’t a map.

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World Design

Metroidvania games tend to encourage exploration and backtracking, and Nartia Boy is no exception. While there is no problem at all with that by itself, the lack of a map is a decision that truly baffles me. This brings with it an added challenge of having to create a mental map of the area to compensate and the game opts to have you travel through several smaller areas to explore as opposed to one large game map. This helps, however I did not stay in each area long enough to put the familiarity of the area into use. As soon as I felt confident in my whereabouts, I was brought to the next area.

Another issue brought up with the lack of a map is the games propensity to not tell you how to proceed. Normally I would applaud a game for trusting its player to find the next objective on their own however I have found myself rubbing my face against the floors and walls trying to find out where to go next because the visual design of the game doesn’t always make progression obvious. The person I spoke with last did not hint whatsoever how I should proceed, the objective list only gave a broad objective, such as “find this key” without hinting how to go about it and of course, there is no map that may show me where I might not have explored yet. This frustrating situation happened to me several times and I would not be bringing this issue up at all if there was just a map.

Story / Personality

One late night, a man known as The Creator invented the highly popular video game console known as the Narita One and is enjoying some noodles while writing some code. He pauses when an ominous red being appears on his screen. The Creator, confused, looks closer into his screen, only for the being to reach out of his computer screen and strike him. When he comes to, he looks around unaware of where he is. In response, the sage-like being known as the Motherboard activates the Narita Protocol to summon the Digital Hero, Narita Boy. Once summoned, the Motherboard explains that the evil being known as Him has invaded the Digital Kingdom, bringing his army of henchmen called Stallions with him. Him has stolen and fragmented The Creator’s memories and it is the task of Narita Boy to take up their great weapon known as the TechnoSword to battle the Stallion forces and recover the thirteen missing fragments of The Creator’s memory. As you go about the game, you will learn more about the Digital Kingdom, the land within the Narita One console, as well as the history of The Creator as you view his memories.

The plot by itself is very surface level, the more interesting facet of its narrative is its world and its atmosphere. The world is an 80s retro techno-style land blended with a fantasy setting; it’s genuinely intriguing and the combination of natural and digital is done in a very masterful and interesting way. It feels as though the writers were very aware of this as most NPCs you will talk with throughout the game will say nothing other than world building and lore information, which is my only complaint about this facet of the game.

Nartia Boy is oversaturated with lore information and world building. Only a small handful of NPCs provide useful information in order to help you progress, everyone else so consistently tells you about the Digital Kingdom; characters begin to feel more like encyclopedias regurgitating information rather than living beings of this world who either want to help you or just want to live their own lives. It just feels weird when someone gives you a mystical explanation about their divine purpose within the Digital Kingdom, then just hands you a key without explaining what it is or why you need it, feeding into issues that I brought up within the world design section.

Graphics / Art Direction

Narita Boy wears an attractive pixel art design, sporting smooth flowing animations with liberal use of smear frames particularly on the sword. Outdoor locations tend to be more natural locales featuring grassy grounds, rivers and waterfalls. Indoor areas tend to be darker shades of blues and blacks, with flashing red, yellow, and blue lights that look like it may have been inspired by the movie Tron. All living creatures have boxy, mechanical designs with CRT-like monitors for heads. The world’s visual design is truly unique and the whole game has a CRT screen filter over it, furthering its retro aesthetic.

Music / Sound Design

The sound design mimics the visual design, blending natural with digital. The music is retro-techno with heavy use of synthesizers and keyboards. The foley is more natural-sounding though, stone sliding against stone when a door opens or the sounds of flowing water when standing near a river. When a character speaks, there is an echoing synth noise that plays in place of the words and yet, the animals will make the natural noises one would expect them to.

Final Score: 70%

Narita Boy has numerous flaws that hold back an otherwise terrific game. The movement and combat is very high quality and it's clear that a lot of care went into that portion of the game. The aesthetic and art design is masterfully accomplished and it’s a joy to look at. However, I find it incredibly difficult to overlook the numerous issues with the developers decisions made throughout the game. I feel as though they would be mostly solved by the simple inclusion of a map, something that could be added in a patch that would increase my score by at least 15%. However until then, I have to rate this game as thoroughly average as great gameplay can only carry a game so far when the parts that aren’t combat are so frustrating.

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