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Retro-futurism and ‘80s nostalgia. These things seem so prevalent in our modern, technological world where we have some incredible tech at our fingertips. Yet we long for the days of VHS tapes, CRT televisions, analog synthesizers and patch cables. Synthwave music has seen a huge surge in recent years where artists are using vintage synths to create beautiful soundscapes reminiscent of the 1980s. And modular synthesizers are more popular now than ever before. As an electronic musician, this is music to my ears (sorry).
Narita Boy captures these inspirations and vibes perfectly through its stellar visual and audio design, stunning pixel art and animation, and wonderful soundtrack. Through tense combat and constant progression, great boss fights and enemy design, along with an intriguing and heartfelt story, Narita Boy is an absolute must play for the modern-day retro-futurist.
I love a hero’s journey. I know it can feel played out and overused, and it’s thought of as a somewhat cliché narrative, but I think it can stand the test of time. And Narita Boy fully embraces it. Developed by Spanish indie team, Studio Koba, and published by Team 17, Narita Boy is a tale of repressed memory, the pain of lost loves, and escapism. It is beautifully expressed as a 2D pixel-art, action adventure. The game was successfully Kickstarted, with over €160,000 pledged by fans, and really is a love letter to classic pixel games. In particular it reminds me of Another World.
I hesitate to go into any story beats here and spoil the game, but for a basic understanding, your titular character is pulled into the ‘Digital Kingdom’ where he is dubbed The Chosen One, and must eliminate the evil forces of the Stallion, led by HIM, and return the memories to the almighty Creator. Armed with the gorgeously designed Techno Sword, you, Narita Boy, the Son of the Trichroma, set out on a journey across the Digital Kingdom’s three dimensions to stop the Stallion forces and return peace to this digital landscape.
Along his journey Narita Boy is continually upgraded to face an increasing array of hostile forces, and there is quite a diverse range of enemy types throughout. From basic zombies, to jumpers, brutes, armored swordsmen, witches, warlocks, ranged enemies, shield-bearers and so many more. All the enemies require a slightly different approach to defeat. The combat is always fun and you’re always tested to utilize your abilities. Narita Boy’s skillset is no slouch though, with new abilities frequently added to your arsenal, and that is one of the components of Narita Boy that I really appreciate. There’s barely a moment where you’re not utilizing one of your skills for either traversal or combat, and reaching that synergy when you’re firing on all cylinders and using all of your learned abilities together, is incredibly satisfying.
In the indie game scene, there are a lot of metroidvanias, and despite this game’s inspiration from Castlevania, I would hesitate to place it within this genre. More of an action-adventure title, there is little exploration or backtracking which I actually think is to Narita Boy’s benefit. Throughout my entire playthrough I felt constant progression – unlocking abilities, reaching the next memory, fighting new enemies and bosses, and pushing the story forward. This forward progression, as well as the feeling that you’re becoming stronger and more equipped, kept me glued to the game even through difficult sections against some tricky bosses or tougher enemy encounters. Even the death screen (which you just have to see to appreciate) pumps you up to defeat whatever enemy is in your way.
Despite its simple graphical style, the game features some fantastic animations. From the way Narita Boy runs, to attack animations, enemy attack telegraphing and the way the Techno Sword burns with red, yellow and blue fire as it slashes through the air. Even the way Narita Boy pants when low on health, his meditation and prayers, and the adorable dash animation, the are all sublime. This great animation, coupled with the game’s movement speed and overall pace of combat, gives you a great feeling of momentum.
Although its movement speed is fantastic, my only gripes with the game come from the way controls are handled and the preciseness of platforming mechanics. In particular, the uppercut move, which allows Narita Boy to not only attack upwardly, but to jump higher, is a combination of Up on the analog stick and the X button. This is all well and good until you need to do this move near a doorway (which is triggered by Up on the analog stick as well). Being that there are quite a few controls and abilities mapped to nearly every button by the time the game finishes, I understand why some of these decisions were made, but the lack of a D-Pad control scheme option for a 2D game can be frustrating for some.
Additionally, Narita Boy’s quick movement speed can be his downfall at times, especially when you need to do some precise platforming sections. The only word I can use to describe it is “slippery”, and sometimes you may misjudge the distance he can jump. These minor issues, however, don’t detract from just how great it feels 99% of the time.
One of Narita Boy’s biggest successes comes in its aesthetic design, and with its 1980s inspired themes, it is drenched in style. The border of the screen is styled to look like a CRT television, scan-lines flicker down the edges, and the color palette is excellently developed to make this really look and feel like a retro title. The Techno Sword is made up of blue, yellow, and red beams of the ‘Trichroma’ which feature throughout, and are the theme for the three dimensions you explore throughout the game. The yellow world is a desert simulation, blue is endlessly soaked in rain and surrounded by ocean, and the red dimension is bathed in power and evil, and is the birthplace of your enemy, HIM.
Some of the areas are truly mesmerizing, with giant cavernous spaces lined with monumental, towering statues of priests and the Digital Kingdom’s “programs”. Beautiful waterfalls of digital blue, and streaming lights from screens that emphasize this, is a digital landscape made up of an elegant code that binds the world thanks to its enigmatic creator.
Some of the boss designs reflect and contrast the colors of the Trichroma as well, with splashes of pink, purple, green and black. There is one notable boss towards the end of the first area, called Black Rainbow, which is one of the most unique creatures in the game and an absolute joy to fight. She attacks fervently and her colors are in stark contrast to the blue area, a peaceful forest, that surrounds Narita Boy. The way the developers have created these spaces from pixel artwork to tell such a beautiful story visually had me enthralled from the minute the game begins.
A character you meet not too far into the game is the Synth Sensei, a “program” of the Digital Kingdom that helps set you out onto your journey through the Trifurcation. This self-proclaimed bard is sitting in front of wall to wall modular synthesizers. But personally I feel that the game’s composer, Salvinsky, is the true synth sensei.
I love me some synth wave, retro-futurist, vapor-wave, ‘80s inspired electronic music, and this soundtrack absolutely nails it from start to finish. From the ridiculously catchy chip-tune style of Narita One (the game’s opening track), to the arpeggios in Glaucoma and Black Rainbow’s boss fights, the quality of the soundtrack is near unparalleled. It’s available on YouTube and Apple Music for your enjoyment too, and I simply can’t stop listening to it. A couple of years ago I reviewed Katana Zero on my YouTube channel, and I touted that soundtrack as one of the greatest of all time – yet I think Salvinsky’s work on Narita Boy may be even better (and that is truly saying something as Bill Kiley and LudoWic’s composition for Katana Zero is truly incredible).
Some of the soundscapes that Salvinsky have created for this soundtrack are just phenomenal. The way the gameplay gives you that sense of progression and power that I spoke about earlier, is further complemented by the way the music crescendos through the story. In particular, there are some riffs and motifs used in Narita One, reused in a huge and orchestral section of Trichroma Sunrise later in the game beautifully, and again in Trichroma Sunset with a rolling beat and bass line, littered with 808 claps and more gorgeous 1980s synth sounds.
The production quality here is sensational. It works perfectly in tandem with the gameplay, graphical presentation and ‘80s vibe, and I hardly think it could be any better.
As I’ve been writing this review I’m finding it hard to put into words how excellent this little indie title is. I love that a little studio can put something like this together, be backed by fans on Kickstarter, and have a successful launch across multiple platforms. It really is a joy to play Narita Boy and if you want to immerse yourself in this fantastic pixel journey through some of the most captivating and inspirational landscapes in its tri-color glory, you can’t possibly go past this game. The deep lore of this digital religion created in the head of a grieving man, and the repressed memories that you unlock throughout your play time as Narita Boy are so well executed. The incredible highs of combat and exploration make way for quiet moments of retrospection and memory, and it’s all complemented by a truly brilliant soundtrack every step of the way.
With huge variety in enemy types, great boss battles that challenge your huge array of skills and abilities, interesting gameplay surprises, and a really well-developed story that leaves you hungering for more, Narita Boy fully succeeds in being a great homage to pixel titles of the past yet brings so many great modern features with it. Minor complaints about imprecise platforming controls aside, Narita Boy feels great to play. It’s fun, it’s hectic, it’s absolutely joyous, and Studio Koba should be very proud of the game they’ve created.