Narita Boy Review: Remembering The 80s

I don’t think I’ve ever been as nostalgic for the late-80s/early-90s as I have been in the past year. Maybe it was the global shutdown that came as a result of the pandemic that had me wishing for the simpler days of my youth. Or, maybe a nostalgic mentality just comes with getting older in general. Whatever the reason, I was hooked from the very first second of the Narita Boy trailer. The 80s aesthetic was undeniable, accentuated by the synthwave soundtrack. While I had no doubt that it would be the case, I was ecstatic that all of these things translated perfectly into the full game. Narita Boy is a bold and unapologetic love letter to the 80s, featuring excellent platforming action and combat, along with an emotional narrative that I couldn’t help but be heavily invested in.

Developer Studio Koba doesn’t waste any time bringing you into Narita Boy’s weird and wonderful digital world. The titular character is pulled into the Digital Kingdom to take on HIM – a virus that has taken control of the memories of The Creator (who happens to be the developer of the game that you’re sucked into). It’s up to Narita Boy to take on the enemies – called Stallions – unleashed upon the Digital Kingdom by HIM. Armed with his Techno Sword, Narita Boy embarks on his quest to restore The Creator’s memories.

And what a quest it is. Narita Boy is a Metroidvania that pulls out all of the stops to provide action and intrigue as you explore the various locations of the Digital Kingdom. At first, it’s pretty overwhelming. I can’t help but feel like I somehow lucked into getting exactly where I needed to go. There’s no map, so it’s up to you to remember where you need to go. This often leads to a bit of backtracking to find a door you may have missed or a key you may have overlooked. Oddly enough, though, it all kind of works. I never feel like I’m being punished for forgetting where I am – generally able to find my way within only a minute or two, which is a lot more reasonable than many other Metroidvanias that I’ve played. To be honest, I don’t mind wandering slightly aimlessly through the Digital Kingdom, since the aesthetics are definitely a treat to take in.

Looking like something taken straight out of Tron, the aesthetics of Narita Boy is its primary seller. From the early throwback cutscenes set within the 80-era to the pixelated design, Narita Boy exudes an incredible retro experience. This extends to combat, when Narita Boy uses his Techno Sword to slice and dice through enemies. Eventually, he also gains the ability to use the sword as a shotgun, which becomes especially helpful in crowd control situations when a horde of Stallions start to overwhelm him. Stallions themselves come with various abilities, such as ranged attacks or blowing themselves, requiring an added layer of strategy when up against multiple enemies at once.

For the most part, this is easy enough to do thanks to the game’s platforming mechanics. However, I would love for the platforming to be just a little bit tighter, especially when jumping from one ledge to another. More often than I would have liked, I found myself slipping off of a platform or missing it entirely even though I had timed everything right. Usually, you can adjust your timing to overcompensate for any platforming woes, but it seems pretty random in Narita Boy. It’s a bit frustrating at times, but isn’t an overly concerning issue.

Narita Boy truly shines during its more coherent story beats. Despite the abstract and obscure nature of the Digital Kingdom, it’s the moments of clarity in The Creator’s memories that ground the game in a sense of reality, giving you a glimpse into the life of The Creator. Some of these moments are pretty intimate and emotional, which was appreciated and made me more invested in recovering all of the memories.

I don’t think I’ve ever referred to something vague as “charming,” yet that’s exactly what Narita Boy is. There’s certainly an underlying emotional narrative, but progressing through the game itself is so “out there” that I couldn’t help but want to uncover more of the Digital Kingdom and the life of The Creator. The 80s aesthetic makes the experience that much better, allowing me to revel in my own sense of nostalgia while playing.

A PC copy of Narita Boy was provided to TheGamer for this review. Narita Boy is available now for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

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Sam has been writing for TheGamer since early 2018, earning the role as the Lead Features & Review Editor in 2019. The Denver, Colorado-native’s knack for writing has been a life-long endeavor. His time spent in corporate positions has helped shape the professional element of his creative writing passion and skills. Beyond writing, Sam is a lover of all things food and video games, which – especially on weekends – are generally mutually exclusive, as he streams his gameplay on Twitch (as well as TheGamer’s Facebook page) under the self-proclaimed, though well-deserved moniker of ChipotleSam. (Seriously…just ask him about his Chipotle burrito tattoo). You can find Sam on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook as @RealChipotleSam.

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