Comes straight from Kickstarter an independent adventure based on the 80s, synthwave and mysticism in code.
I don’t remember when and where this was born unstoppable wave of nostalgia for the 80s, but I know that – for some time and on different media – it is now all a triumph of cathode ray tube scanlines (hello Retrobigini!), a purple palette lit by neon in perfect retrowave style and a profusion of synths. A return to an unlikely future-past at first nothing short of intoxicating. Especially for those who, like me, were actually born there in the 80s and are there with those suggestions really grown up: a certain type of aesthetics and way of communicating cannot fail to have a special resonance for us, who now (over) thirty with those imaginaries return to the sense of wonder and surprise of when we were children.
Exaggerating however, as we know, is never good. And that’s why, after the fresh exploits of Kung-Fury, Stranger Things and Hotline Miami (by the way, here’s our review of Hotline Miami Collection), at the 700th revival of the inevitable wireframe grid that extends to infinity seen in Tron, you begin to feel a certain redundant background fatigue. Because the celebration is OK, the nostalgic re-enactment of the good old days is OK, but the impression is that we often hide with cunning behind the easy amarcord and the pushed quotationism to conceal a disarming paucity of ideas and basic contents. A risk that he fortunately managed to avoid with agility and class Narita Boy, the first feature of the Spanish independent team Studio Koba: a videogame that in reality is played almost entirely on the triumph brought to the excesses of the unmistakable eighties, with the uncommon ability to give life to a universe made of digital mysticism, heroism and unexpected humanity.
The call of the Trichroma
Narita Boy tells the story of a half-western child born in Japan, in the city of Narita: a little genius destined to follow in the footsteps of his father, a video game designer, becoming none other than the Creator. In fact, in the 80s Lionel Pearl will establish himself as a figure with messianic traits, capable of generating an authentic cult of his person thanks to Narita One, or the unstoppable success console on which Narita Boy is found exclusively, none other than the most videogame. sold to the world. If it seems to you that the plot follows that of Ready Player One and wraps itself a bit, do not worry: it is all absolutely wanted, in a triumph of similarities that repeat themselves and that border on what is happening in the digital realm of the game itself.
Yes, because in Narita Boy everything is connected, and the game-in-game born from the creativity of Lionel Pearl is in reality another dimension not at all fictitious: a scenario governed by the power of Trichroma (a ray of three colors that recalls
once again to the digital world, to the RGB signal … but obviously also to The Legend of Zelda), which has fallen into disrepair over time because a dark force wants to dominate and subvert the balance not only in its universe, but also in ours. Expect a dual narrative emphasis in the approximately seven hours of adventure: on the one hand, many textual insights, unfortunately only in English, relating to the digital realm and its lore made up of codes and brilliant analogies to the specific language of programming. On the other hand, a perhaps unexpected flash of human warmth, with the touching story of the events of Lionel who, albeit through short lines of text, manages to thrill thanks to the somewhat convincing writing.
This is because, basically, Narita Boy is actually the fulfillment of a very concrete dream: one production born thanks to a fundraiser on Kickstarter, who closely follows in the footsteps of Eduardo Fornieles, the game’s Director. Fornieles, just like Lionel Pearl’s fictional character, was a Westerner transplanted to Japan, who worked in the gaming industry for years. After abandoning Friend & Foe, the studio of exiles from the ICO Team that after some time would have given birth to Vane (to find out more, here is the review of Vane), the creative has decided to return to Spain and to devote himself soul and body to something that he felt deeply his. And so Studio Koba was born first, a small development company with the ambition to create “unique and bizarre experiences”, and then Narita Boy.
A (digital) kingdom to be saved
Playfully, the Barcelona team’s debut comes as a two-dimensional action that includes platform elements and a splash of metroidvania nature: do not expect the multi-way and layered open exploration of the Symphony of the Night on duty, but rather some backtracking phases – quite lazy and never really convincing in terms of pure level design – within a linear context.
Between a few small puzzles, mini sections of platforms and many wave battles within fixed-screen arenas, Narita Boy flows with pleasure, interspersed frequently with the aforementioned purely narrative passages. If the combat system all in all it works and is more and more fun – also thanks to a constant progression, which until the epilogue will continue to provide you with new and different skills – it is instead impossible not to express strong reservations about the commands, which in particular in the jumps they totally lack that feeling of control and precision that you would like. Mind you, nothing that can really compromise the whole, also because there are no platform phases to the millimeter in Ori and the Blind Forest style, but it is still a fairly unexpected slip that it is right to underline.
All the more so when considering the prodigious magnificence of the audiovisual sector of production, characterized by a style, a class and an attention to detail that is nothing short of out of the ordinary. If in terms of gameplay Narita Boy gets along and entertains the right one, in this sense we are on the contrary in the sphere of absolute excellence: the artistic direction is sublime, the pixel art on the screen – which owes a lot to Superbrothers: Sword & Sorcery – hands down among the best views of the last decade and flawless animations. Not to mention one sensational soundtrack to say the least, simply perfect in giving color and warmth to a dimension of pure techno-digital dream, pervaded by a priceless spirituality and atmosphere.
The real and final merit of Narita Boy is ultimately all there: exactly as the console Narita One promises to do, the first work of Studio Koba takes you and teleports you forcefully in a universe made of pixels and retro-futuristic suggestions that cannot fail to leave its mark. Opening glimpses of a fascinating kingdom barely mentioned, which however leaves you – even in consideration of a very interlocutory ending – with the desire to know more and the feeling of not having had enough at all.
It is therefore clear that a new, dazzling star has been born in the indie firmament: the debut of Studio Koba will not be at the level of the elite of the phenomena of race such as Studio MDHR or Team Cherry, but the Spanish software house certainly remains among those to keep an eye on for years to come. Waiting to come back, hopefully as soon as possible, our trusty Technosword.
Narita BoyXbox Series X Analyzed VersionNarita Boy it is an experience to be lived and enjoyed, delightfully straddling two worlds (always and in any case made of pixels, complete with simulated curvature of the CRT monitor on the sides of the screen). An adventure in the most exotic and literal sense of the term, capable of suggesting with the elusive folklore of a distant yet so familiar dimension for those who – like me – experienced the 80s and how. Too bad for some avoidable smudging on a playful level, which ends up creating a certain dissonance between a functional and pleasant gameplay, but never stellar, and the audiovisual sector really out of the parameters. For € 24.99 (or at no cost if you subscribe to the Game Pass service on Xbox), it’s definitely worth letting yourself be intoxicated by the enigmatic power of Trichroma.