Thursday, March 29, 2012

Noby Noby Boy

It's difficult to describe in words what Noby Noby Boy is. It's something of a procedurally-generated sandbox game in which there are no goals or pressure to accomplish anything specific. Well, there are some lofty and far-away goals, but it's impossible to accomplish them alone, and they take a great deal of time. More on this later.

Upon hovering over the game's XMB icon, players are greeted with a seemingly hand-painted picture of a group of children climbing, sitting, playing, and generally just amusing themselves on, around, or about a steaming bowl of soup. Yes, a bowl of soup. While this image may seem unrepresentative of gameplay (it is), it's still representative of the playful nature of the game as a whole.

Like the portrait of the steaming playground of a bowl of soup, Noby Noby Boy is an eclectic amalgam of everything fun, carefree, and innocent. Noby Noby Boy makes you feel like a kid again.

Remember the simple joy of visiting an undiscovered play park for the first time, as a child? When you would scurry into a play structure for the first time, you would only want to explore, discover, and see what sorts of unique geometrical shapes the designers had put into the towering playground to amuse you.

The same feelings apply for the suspended aerial-island-plains of Noby Noby Boy. These islands in the sky are procedurally generated, which means you'll never visit the same island twice. Being simply dropped into a strange, colourfully diverse world that begins with just a hint of cohesiveness, your character - a sort of caterpillar-kid known simply as BOY - is free to walk around, explore, offer free rides to pedestrians, and more typically, cause havoc and break the gentle balance of the island's inhabitants.

This is done through an eccentric but intuitive control scheme, one that uses both analogue sticks to control both the front end of BOY's head, as well as his "tail". There are plenty of control quirks to learn, and the controls are as unique and silly as the game's creator, Keita Takahashi, the man behind the Katamari games.    Just as the Katamari games' strange and wonderful controls make the game very different and difficult to explain, so do Noby Noby Boy's.

Since both extremes of BOY's body are controlled by separate analogue sticks, it's possible to stretch him out into a longer form. When this is done, BOY's body changes to a randomly-chosen colour, and the longer length of his body usually means that he will be harder to manage and cause more havoc to the environments around him. "Havoc" is probably too strong a word, though. Yes, BOY knocks people out of their vehicles, eats them, and then excretes them out of his tail section. But despite all this, the game is never crude, violent, or abrasive in any way.

The only effect knocking around an island's denizens has is that the people will run away. The only acknowledgement of having eaten something is a slight bulge in BOY's body, and the way enemies are expelled from BOY's backside is neither crude nor off-putting. BOY's presence isn't even intended to be portrayed as a negative one, since inhabitants will often hitch an impromptu ride on Boy's back, and sometimes even hop onto the back of another rider. It's all completely unplanned, unscripted, and incomprehensible. It's also wonderful.

Equally wonderful is the unparalleled sense of progression this game offers. For all the lengths that BOY stretches, he adds a number to the global stretched length, which is reported by all players. When BOY visits the Sun, he can "donate" his length to a another character called GIRL, whose goal is to stretch out into the universe. Or something. If this all sounds completely crazy, it is. But all this really means that players from around the world contribute to GIRL's length, offering access to new planets with completely different looks, physics, and manifestations. At this point in time, GIRL has reached Uranus, and has yet to reach Neptune and Pluto. GIRL's length is also helped by users of the equally strange (but different) iOS version of the game, priced at 2.99$. Three years after the game's release, and with the added help of iOS users, players still haven't unveiled all the content that is on offer.

Despite all the praise, Noby Noby Boy's controls certainly take some getting used to, and the game's sense of random childhood whimsy and lack of objectives won't appeal to everyone. The game does have local multiplayer - added in an update - but the camera's almost totally manual SixAxis controls make it frustrating to play with any but the masters of the game's bizarre camera-control system.

These minor complaints aside, Noby Noby Boy's ridiculous visuals, relaxing atmosphere, and wholly unique gameplay make this one of the most singular and bizarre titles on the Playstation Network. To top that all off, it's only 5$.