Hooray for Six Years of Noby Noby Boy!
Exactly one week and six years ago, Namco Bandai published Keita Takahashi’s Noby Noby Boy on the PlayStation 3. I bought the game a couple of years later when it went on sale, as I recall. Back when it came out I still read gaming media juggernaut IGN, which panned the game for looking like it could have come out on the PS1. Though that claim is obviously false considering its absolute dependence on dynamic physics, I took it at face value and hesitated before buying it.
Now, I play it more than any of the other PS3 games I ever bought. Whenever I need to unwind and experience some nonlinear (or very linear, depending on what we’re talking about) wackiness, I turn it on and play for an hour or two. Sometime I just lie on the couch and leave the controller on the table, letting the strange wormlike Boy wander gently through the procedurally generated landscapes.
Flat and pastel-bright, the planets of Noby Noby Boy are all named after the planets of our solar system. To play the game, you choose a planet, Earth’s moon, or the sun, and launch out of the chimney of a house that looks like a face. There are no goals other than PlayStation Trophies, and the point of the game is precisely that it has no point. You manipulate the lengthy, rubbery body of Boy, stretching, bouncing, and flying through the air while interacting with structures and AI controlled characters.
These curious denizens don’t have much to say––nothing, to be exact––and are usually content to bumble around, riding various vehicles or assorted alien animal beings. Some of them carry signs, while others just stand there or wander aimlessly. While they are aware of you, and will scatter when you try to painlessly devour (and expel) them, they don’t seek you out. That said, they will take a ride on your back if you let them. And their grip is, frankly, stupendous, as they can hang on effortlessly while you corkscrew through the sky.
Enjoying the game means riding a wave of spontaneous weirdness and glee. It’s an entirely experimental game that requires little of the player except curiosity and the ability to take joy in purely tactile and intrinsic rewards for putting effort into the game. You don’t earn points or get in-game recognition for doing much of anything (exceptions will be detailed below), but I still take immense satisfaction in curling around a giant apple, shoving my body through a tunnel, diving through doughnut clouds, and dancing with strobing lights.
Takahashi, who also created Katamari Damacy, has once again created a world that is relatively simplistic but also benevolent. Everything moves the way one would expect, and that gives the surreal fantasy landscapes a sense of weight and, ultimately, fun. You, as Boy, are neither the centre of attention in this world nor a nonentity; you’re mostly just glad to exist and knot yourself into a pretzel.
Like Katamari, Noby Noby Boy has two layers to it, one bound to the Earth and the other much more cosmic. While the game has no progression for each individual player, the length that each Boy (player) stretches is added to the gigantic Girl, a space-travelling bearer of good tidings. As the game kept being played, Girl would stretch to reach more and more heavenly bodies, unlocking new levels. By providing a common goal rather than an individual one, Takahashi gives players both a stress-free experience free from the risk of failure and an end to strive for. Now that Girl has reached all the way back to Earth, though, the game is in a state of limbo. Its space-stretching journey at an end, Noby Noby Boy persists at its most basic level: a wonderful dream to inhabit for short intervals, soaking in its warm and strange energy to make one’s real life a bit more bearable.