Studio Koba promised two main things about its debut title, Narita Boy: it would deliver on feelings of nostalgia for the 1980s, and that it would contain a pumping soundtrack that perfectly matched the neo-synthetic artistic stylings. The trailers and promotional material leaned heavily into both of these things, promising a digital landscape that wouldn’t look out of place when cross-referenced with Tron.
Narita Boy starts to build this world before the actual game itself is loaded. It fills the promotional screens for Studio Koba and British publisher Team17, which is responsible for previous hits like Overcooked and Yooka-Laylee, with a low, rumbling synth and a variety of digital rigmarole. The title screen itself is ripped straight from a promotional picture for Star Wars. Our titular hero, Narita Boy, proudly brandishes the Techno-Sword (more on that later) skywards.
Narita Boy absolutely wears its inspirations on its sleeves. So much so that even I, very much not a child of the ’80s, can stare at it with a reverent sense of nostalgia. But it’s more than just the sum of its parts. The game spins a unique and immersive world that doesn’t rely too heavily on references and heart-tugs to form its identity.
Tron meets a missing persons case
We were only allowed to reveal around two hours of gameplay for the purposes of this preview. The story, as it stands, is that you are Narita Boy — the digital form of a real, flesh and blood child. You’re sucked into the Narita Console and transformed into a sentient body of code that can traverse the Digital Kingdom. Upon entering this computer-scape, you learn that you have been tasked with unraveling the mysterious disappearance of the Creator. He’s responsible for coding the Digital Kingdom and all of its inhabitants.
You learn of the Trichroma, three beams that control every code source in the Digital Kingdom. You have to stop HIM, an entity gone mad, who wants to take control of the Red Beam — the strongest component of the Trichroma. HIM controls an army of Stallions, which serve as the game’s basic enemies and bosses. This isn’t HIM’s first attempt to overthrow the Digital Kingdom, though. In response to previous attempts, the Creator crafted several fail-safes. However, HIM grew so powerful that he was able to destroy the Creator’s memory, disabling those barriers.
If that’s confusing, it boils down to this: you, Narita Boy, must find the Creator’s lost memories and restore them. Doing so will help banish HIM and his evil army of Stallions, and prevent the fall of the Digital Kingdom.
Narita Boy can wield the Techno-Sword, the only thing that can kill Stallions. It is with the Techno-Sword’s versatility that Narita Boy begins to shine. There’s the standard slash attack, an element of any bladed weapon. This can be charged for a swing with more oomf — called the Home Run — that has Narita Boy pop enemies as if they were a baseball. You can string together combos to create more powerful attacks, similar to other Metroidvanias.
And, oh yea, the Techno-Sword is also a shotgun, capable of filling Stallions with digital buckshot that deals massive amounts of damage. What’s more, the shotgun attack itself can be charged into an Ultra Beam. The shotgun function does have an ammunition cap of sorts, limited to three cartridges, though it regenerates over time.
Those are just the four most basic attacks, as Narita Boy grows in power throughout the game. Still, a wide variation of attacks keeps combat lively, especially when Narita Boy’s movement system is sprinkled in. Traversing through the world, you can find a Dash power-up that will help cover large gaps in the ground and swiftly move you out of harm’s way. The Shoulder Bash can break through certain walls and stun enemies.
In that brief window of gameplay, I encountered so many enemy variants that it’s difficult to remember each name. This isn’t a problem, as a deep enemy pool is typically necessary in keeping a 2D fighting system interesting.
There are common enemy types like the Zombie, the drone of the Stallion army. Then there’s the pool of less common enemies that are akin to mini-bosses. For instance, the (incredibly annoying) Wizard, which spawns waves of enemies as it floats above you. The Daddy Bomb is a doting father figure that expels his explosive spawn from his chest.
Narita Boy’s first two actual bosses — Lord_VHS and Glaucoma — felt kind of like training grounds for harder big bads down the line. Each has basic attacks that are easy to pick up on and dodge. Black Rainbow, though, is a multi-stage boss who takes elements from Lord_VHS and Glaucoma and combines them for a more difficult experience.
Narita Boy on the PC does support the use of a gamepad. However, I found that, when playing through with my Xbox One controller, there were certain times that it would disconnect during a stage change. This happened pretty frequently, and it can be a tad frustrating as the keyboard controls are less intuitive. There’s also no way to fully customize the control layout. Instead, there are three options to choose from for both keyboard and gamepad. I say only keyboard, because Narita Boy does not utilize the mouse whatsoever.
That small problem wasn’t enough to turn me off from the game, though, and it shouldn’t be for you. Studio Koba delivers on all of its promises for Narita Boy and then some, making it a game worth looking into once it gets a full release on March 30.