It’s not a strange thing for an aesthetic to grab you. A look and feel that turns the nostalgic wheels in your head, a specific presentation style that has that rare air of feeling like it’s speaking directly to you. Back in 2017
, when the crowdfunding campaign for Narita Boy began, the heavily CRT-filtered visuals, pixel art, and fantastical elements that drew on things like floppy disks and vintage displays as heads did exactly that. For me.
The promise of a Tron-like adventure of a legendary Techno Sword-wielding hero venturing into a digital world to save the good code from the bad.
With Studio Koba releasing the full version of Narita Boy after a few years in development, the final product does that even rarer thing of living up to its promise. In that the look and feel isn’t merely an exercise in style, but instead a vibrant emissive display of sights and sounds that leads to a world full of detail, silicon, and soul.
It’s not a strange thing for an aesthetic to grab you. A look and feel that turns the nostalgic wheels in your head, a specific presentation style that has that rare air of feeling like it’s speaking directly to you.
The Tron-like ‘going inside the computer’ descriptor is probably the best way to sum up Narita Boy’s premise, a character-driven tale about the Creator of a new computer and console system called the Narita One that has been lost or consumed by its bits and bytes. As Narita Boy, a human who takes on the mantle of mythical hero inside the computer, you’re tasked with stopping the menacing HIM and all manner of rogue bits of code upsetting the balance.
For those well versed in all things ‘80s computing then it’s the sort of premise that will in some way feel familiar. And with fictional characters, fictional hardware, and an entirely fictional game and hero in the form of Narita Boy, there’s as much of an ‘80s movie vibe here as there is one all about vintage computing. This is something that becomes immediately apparent when your first moments inside its world consists mostly of lengthy in-depth lore and exposition dumps from the digital characters you meet.
It’s all impressively detailed, and in describing how the digital landscape works, the players, the Trichroma, the Techno Sword, how the different locations function and how they fit into the picture, well, it’s as dense as it is – again – impressive. That ‘80s movie connection is important because it all feels like the sort of fantasy you’d see in a specific film from the era as opposed to walking the streets of IRL 1980s.
The only problem with so much lore doled out in text form is that it doesn’t really make for a great first impression, that is for those out there looking to run around or simply explore the beautiful world. Instead, it sets the narrative tone as one that is mostly revolved around learning how things work and came to be as opposed to figuring stuff out. Or leaving certain things to mystery or discovery. Digital ambiguity.
This isn’t entirely a bad thing, but when paired with a large portion of the story involving the act of unlocking the Creator’s memories, being present or in the moment in Narita Boy is something that is unfortunately fleeting outside of combat. Riding the digital waters on top of your floppy disk, or through the digital forests atop a classic Mac-like steed or being introduced to a new foe – these are moments that resonate. In fact, when paired with the evocative art direction there are several moments that resonate and elevate the experience as something more than a dense and cinematic tale about the creator of a fictional bit of ‘80s kit getting lost.
Exploration does opens after a spell and becomes intuitive in how it all works without the need for the sort of map you’d find in a side-scroller like Narita Boy. Multiple objectives allow for completing tasks in a different order too, alongside the ability to discover a few secrets here and there. The bulk of Narita Boy’s mechanics though, revolve around the use of the Techno Sword. Pixel combat.
With fictional characters, fictional hardware, and an entirely fictional game and hero in the form of Narita Boy, there’s as much of an ‘80s movie vibe here as there is one all about vintage computing.
On this front new moves from dashing, to uppercut strikes, to combos, to calling on the power of different trichromatic heroes are discovered (and installed via floppy) fairly regularly. There’s a sense of variety in the combat even if the general flow of is straightforward. Difficulty ramps up as expected, and not only for major boss encounters. Timing and learning attack patterns are the order of the day in Narita Boy and the controls are responsive even though weirdly there's no option for d-pad movement.
In the end though it will most likely be Narita Boy’s visuals that grab you – and on that front Studio Koba has delivered and then some. Even though there’s a lot of lore and explaining going on it’s all met and even exceeded by the stunning backdrops, wonderful animation, and a consistent tone that strikes a balance between awe and familiar. Between analog and digital. Accompanied by an excellent synth-driven soundtrack, and a story that is ultimately bittersweet if not entirely unpredictable – Narita Boy is worth seeking out, installing, and experiencing in full VHS-era CRT-vision.