Narita Boy’s nifty presentation got me excited before I even picked up my digitized sword. The 1980s tributes are almost played out, but the action title from Studio Koba manages to reinvent that retro style of cool with an imaginative presentation that goes one step further than, “Let’s just hit neon and grid lines everywhere “. Narita Boy’s gameplay doesn’t quite live up to its stunning looks, but if you can endure a headache it turns into a fun game.
I can’t say enough about how great Narita Boy’s presentation is. Studio Koba borrows heavily Tron that the entire game is set 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, which consists, among other things, of a desert kingdom and a coastal village, feels fully realized in terms of both visual design and tradition. The Synthwave soundtrack rocks, and the CRT-style overlay is the chef’s kiss for the entire package. I loved marveling at Narita Boy’s art, and even those who lack coding skills or nostalgia should appreciate the creativity shown, like “What if digital horses were just four-legged computer rigs?”
Narita Boy plays almost as good as it looks. The battle is mostly about satisfying hack-and-slash action with your legendary sword, but you also have a shotgun sidearm. The shotgun sounds cooler on paper than it does in practice; I regularly forgot about it as it never feels useful or necessary. Killing enemies starts out as a basic proposition but becomes more robust and fun as you unlock new sword attacks and screen clearing incantations. Color-coded power-ups offer another cool perk. You can use it to kill enemies of a matching color (represented by a flame) more easily, although you run the risk of taking more damage yourself. Best of all, Narita Boy is handing out new skills and mechanics right through to the end, including neat, one-off sequences like piloting a giant version of Mech himself.
You will need all the help you can get because Narita Boy is no walk in the park. The game features a variety of challenging enemy types and has no problem throwing them over all players, which can feel overwhelming at times. Figuring out how to use your arsenal of moves to take out combinations of very different opponents is a fun challenge, but some of the enemy types are a pain in the ass. For example, dealing with an armored enemy with a near-impassable shield was never fun, and I always groaned when he showed up. The worst part about surrendering your pixelated bum is the inconsistent control points that feel almost arbitrary. Some will bring you close to where you died, but too often you will be thrown back further than you expected.
The fight isn’t perfect, but it’s a good time overall. I wish I could say the same for the platform. Jumping feels stiff, slippery, and floating at the same time. I often only landed on a ledge so that the sensitive movement would lead me over it. Jumping from wall to wall can take several tries because your character will feel wooden. Upgrades like an ascending sword attack / high jump don’t feel satisfying because you can’t use it as an actual double jump and pressing the up and attack buttons at the same time is difficult in hectic scenarios.
It wouldn’t matter if the game was mostly simple-platform action, but Narita Boy halts by routinely introducing obstacle courses he doesn’t feel equipped for. Riding a computer horse sounds great until you crack through spikes that your character’s intentional animations cannot reliably dodge. The same goes for surfing on a huge floppy disk. It’s fantastic in concept, less in execution. This becomes particularly irritating in combat. A boss throws energy dice that require precise evasion. I fell through half of them and my survival boiled down to having enough hit points to absorb the onslaught.
Still, as much as I hated to carefully hop over platforms and scream “Come on!” After failing another difficult battle arena, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Narita Boy’s style once the dust settled. I love every inch of his wonderfully designed world and the gameplay is good enough to carry the adventure. In a way, it’s like starting up an old computer. If you can put up with the cumbersome user interface and outdated design, how it still gets the job done is a beauty and an appreciation.