When the trailer for Narita Boy dropped last February, I was hooked. Whether or not it was the synthpop / synthwave soundtrack, or just how it was presented as a stylized retro action platformer along the lines of Flashback and Blackthorne, made me want to try it out. The clincher was when I ended up listening to the theme, I didn’t even wait for the game to drop on Game Pass, I just bought it straight from the PS Store–didn’t even think twice.
Surely, there are better ways to get my synthpop fix besides putting Daft Punk and The Midnight on shuffle, but there’s more to Narita Boy than meets the eye. While retro action platformers has had a resurgence with Shovel Knight, Carrion and even most recently when the excellent rendition of Cyber Shadow— each game is a love letter to their respective sub-genres.
Narita Boy is a love letter to the retro sci-fi fantasy we old nerds grew up to. From Star Wars to Tron to Akira, Narita Boy covers quite a lot of ground blending elements of retro cool and venerating it to divinity. This is what we nerds who grew up in the eighties imagined the 2020s to be, either we’re physically living in a digital world listening to nothing but synthpop, while fighting our robot overlords. It’s nothing like that, but hey to each their own.
Holding Out For A Hero
Narita Boy tells the story of the titular faceless chosen hero who has been called to liberate the digital world from HIM, a nefarious overlord who rebelled against the creator, and his dastardly minions–The Stallions. The creator has forgotten the source code and now it is up to you, Narita Boy, to collect the fragments of his memories and defeat HIM to restore balance to the world.
From the get-go, we’re introduced to a retro-futuristic stylized world that has its unique aesthetic and fully commits to its techno-divinity culture. The digital world is packed with its unique digital denizens, each harboring a Mac Classic monitor and its villains packaged as other forms of obsolete tech such as Lord VHS or General Black Rainbow. It’s a trip.
The game always reminds you that you are chosen for this heroic task and on your journey, every power bestowed upon you by the world is a hyperbolic representation of fandom tropes seen in many of your favorite properties. The Techno Sword is largely a lightsaber, the Uni Cannon is representative of the ultimate moves of giant robots, and even the dash maneuver is utilized by many protagonists over the years.
Faster, Stronger, Better
As you progress through the linear hero’s journey of delving deeper into the digital kingdom, you will receive more power ups and foes who match your current power levels. You start out with the Techno Sword and the Dash, but as you progress, you will harness the power of the Trichroma–sometimes in the form of healing or skills including a shoulder ram to break enemy defenses.
Stronger enemies will attempt to block your progress later on ranging from enemies who have the same capability as your Uni-Beam and stronger melee opponents who can withstand the progression of your Techno Sword techniques. There are even summons that you could harness, which adds to the already awesome fight scenes. The beauty of this progression is once you synergize all your skills, it will match the cool aesthetic with a fluid combat that entertains alongside the overall thematic presentation.
While the only issue I have with this is that while the entire journey is linear, it could’ve implemented some sort of Metroidvania element where you could revisit earlier areas blocked by missing certain skills. Otherwise, I enjoyed the 7-hour journey with a wondrous world complemented with an interesting battle system.
Thanks For the Music
The best thing about the game is its robust synthpop / synthwave soundtrack and score. It really builds up the heroic mood and sets you up for cool boss battles ahead. It really reminds me of old school retro games in the 80s where the midi soundtrack really amps me up to enjoy the game loop. Plus even the slower moments where you discover the creator’s old memories are punctuated with serene and tranquil music that matches the scenario.
The amazing thing with the overall visual presentation really hearkens back to the Tron aesthetic. You feel that you’re playing the game from a CRT TV, even going as far as highlighting the edges of the screen with the CRT-type glass. The character dialogue are all in text, while we have some sound effects that subtly shows character quirks, it really brings you into the world.
While the retro illusion is very much welcome, it should be said that most of this is simulated and unlike Cyber Shadow which recreates the actual 8-bit experience, Narita Boy is what we perceive a retro game would look and play, but it really has mostly modern elements. Also unlike Cyber Shadow, the controls of the game seem somewhat sluggish adding an extra variable of weight that makes platforming a bit of a challenge.
Combat is definitely fluid and the difficulty level isn’t too difficult even for the casual gamer as the story and overall aesthetic is the star of the show. I appreciate that the checkpoints of the game are fair and boss battle patterns are relatively straightforward. Because I feel that you will die a lot due to controller lag. In a way, I personally forgave this quirk because of the actual retro illusion. I just pretended I was playing it on the Family Computer.
What we liked:
- The best music so far this year.
- Amazing retro aesthetic that creates a retro futuristic illusion of actually playing a retro game, down to the controls.
- Epic combat when all the powers are put together.
- Real fantastic story that makes you play it from beginning to end in almost one sitting.
What we didn’t like:
- Sluggish retro controls.
- Platforming isn’t too fluid.
- Would’ve liked more replay value.
Verdict: Buy it!
Narita Boy is a short and sweet game that entertains from beginning to end. I really wanted more the moment I finished the game, and it’s something you can totally finish in one sitting. The game and the world it has created really got me hooked from the get-go. While games like Cyber Shadow and Carrion were commendable, I’ve taken long breaks from them and then eventually returned to finish them. Narita Boy doesn’t have this narrative friction, everything went smooth.
If your personal tastes and conventions may not appeal to a retro gaming experience, take note that if you’re an Xbox Game Pass owner, you can try it out free as it is given on Day One.
I’m a sucker for good synthpop and this game really delivers. I won’t be surprised if its soundtrack is nominated for Game of the Year. Whether you’re partial to Daft Punk or not, it’s hard to dislike and it really will get you going.
If you’re really into this type of aesthetic or even have ever loved retro nerd stuff in the eighties, you’re going to at least have a good time with the hero quest and the epic boss fights. The presentation definitely is the star of the show backed by its amazing music. If there’s an indie game you must check out this month, this is it.