Noby Noby Boy
Don’t let his directing credits fool you, Keita Takahashi is not a video game designer. The driving force behind Katamari Damacy and its direct sequel We Love Katamari, Takahashi has stated over and over again in dozens of interviews that his future lies somewhere outside the digital domain. And yet here we are again, five years after the release of the first Katamari title, staring down a candy-colored exercise in simplicity and quirkiness with Takahashi’s Noby Noby Boy.
But while Takahashi’s flagship series brought in big numbers and a new standard for cheaply developed games (the original only costing $1 million), Noby Noby Boy exists as something of an experiment in design. While embodying the same quirkiness that Takahashi has become known for, the Playstation Network exclusive is big on personality but lacks in substance.
Since its unveiling, Noby Noby Boy has been mired in mystery. What’s the gameplay goal? Is there a connection to the Katamari series? What, exactly, is the point of play? Touting itself as less of an actual game and more of a sort of zen experience, Noby Noby Boy places players in the role of Boy, a worm-like creature with a voracious appetite and the ability to stretch his body to obscene lengths. Placed in small, floating stages brimming with farm animals, shapes, houses, people, and other random objects, Boy is given free reign to circle, float and eat his neighbors in hopes of reaching massive lengths. Why, do you ask? Well, it all started with a Girl…
While Noby Noby Boy claims to be game without any pressure in terms of completion or goal, there is definitely a story at work and a point to be made. Aside from Boy, three other characters exist in-game: the Fairy, the Sun, and Girl. The first being a narrator of sorts and tutorial advisor, the second being a middle-man for the task at hand, and the third being the reason for playing.
The plot is as such: Girl, an enormous, worm-like sweetie stuck in space, wishes for all people to come together in a sort of social matrimony. To make this point, she stretches across the cosmos in hopes of spanning the entire solar system, but needs the combined effort of all Boys to reach this goal. To expand her domain in space, each Boy must stretch his body as far as he can, as many times as he can, and then report to the Sun. As each player’s cumulative length grows, Girl moves a little closer to the next planet in our celestial neighborhood.
In its own kooky way, Noby Noby Boy exists as a sort of social network, combining the effort of all online players in order to progress past the moon, onto Mars, and ultimately to Pluto (assuming the designers still consider our icy, distant cousin a planet). Once Girl reaches each milestone, a new stage type becomes available for players to muss around with. The deep-space darling currently rests a certain point past the moon.
As a PSN title, Noby Noby Boy impresses with clean visuals and no apparent frame rate issues. The style is akin to Katamari Damacy, with large, brightly colored characters inhabiting a fairly simplistic but cheery world backed by soothing but forgettable instrumental music. The game concept as a whole is really interesting, and definitely a fun way for players to feel part of a larger project. The distance Girl stretches is accurate in terms of the real distance between each celestial body, giving the game a sense of longevity as thousands of players, each adding their contribution, are a small part of a greater whole.
But despite its workable graphics, quirky story, simplistic art style and calming score, Noby Noby Boy falters when faced with the task of bringing together its separate parts into a cohesive whole.
While the charm of Noby Noby Boy is definitely something to write home about, the implementation is lacking, particularly in the control and camera department. For a game with such a simple task, the controller mechanics are a bit frustrating at times. The analog control works fine when controlling Boy’s front and rear ends, but can be overly touchy. After a bit of practice, moving Boy about becomes manageable, but never more than the camera system will allow.
Noby Noby Boy‘s biggest flaw lies with the camera system, a broken scheme that gives players a decent amount of command over the view, but is so finicky that any real attempt to control where the camera is pointed results in tear-soaked controllers and heavy drinking. Tilting the controller while holding the a button will zoom, but doesn’t even work half the time. Mussing too much with the view will often times stick the camera amidst the terrain, resulting in a skewed wire frame view of the environment, i.e., the worst possible angle to see, well, anything.
Luckily though, there is never much to really miss onscreen. While the goal of Noby Noby Boy is fairly apparent, the means to reach it are pretty thin. Aside from repeatedly stretching Boy and devouring whatever is laying nearby, there really isn’t anything else to do save for explore the game’s tiny environment. While it can be amusing to wrap the wormy protagonist around trees and through buildings, it becomes apparent after a short while that there isn’t much else the game has to offer.
Even with a fun premise and colorful, simplistic visuals, Noby Noby Boy ultimately falls short when a basic fundamental of design hinders the overall experience. While the rough edges are smoothed over by a ridiculously cheap purchase price and the sort of opium-induced calm that Takahashi’s titles tend to instill in players, in the end Noby Noby Boy is a pleasing distraction for a time, but never amounts to much more than that.