He’s Got Nothing on Stretch Armstrong

Noby Noby Boy

Noby Noby Boy, the latest from the twisted mind of Keita Takahashi, eschews strict guidelines and refuses to conform to conventions. Like his previous work, Katamari Damacy, the game’s heroes are curious outsiders, the worlds are flat and devoid of detail, and surfaces are splashed with primary hues; both games’ art styles are cautiously teetering towards sickeningly saccharine, but narrowly escape with Japanese-chic.

And, like Katamari, Noby Noby Boy has whispers of a hierarchical food chain. Not quite as overt as Damacy’s gradually growing ball and obvious size increase, but Boy will get fatter, and be able to chomp on larger objects, as he swallows more food.

But that’s where the similarities end. Katamari has enormously clear and concise goals; roll your magically adhesive ball over crabs, Mah-jong pieces, school busses and skyscrapers to reach a certain length in a certain period of time – both the pass and fail states are explicit and explained through the interface.

Noby Noby Boy asks you to stretch and eat, with only one overarching objective; upload your extended amount to “Girl” who, with the help of NNB players all over the world, can stretch to new planets and unlock new worlds for players. Worlds to do what, exactly? To curl your rainbow snake around new windmills, to eat new blocks or to be ridden by new creatures? Noby is completely devoid of any clear goals, any incentive to try and any guidance to help find the fun.

Katamari Damacy

Gamers’ love affair with Katamari Damacy has spawned an unnatural amount of fan creativity, stretching cosplay, cakes, origami, fan art and pumpkin carvings. Will Noby Noby Boy inspire the same level of imagination?

The tutorial ends before you’re sure of the game’s controls and Noby Noby Boy starts before you’re sure of the game’s point. The people are bizarrely designed, houses look like faces and even your own character is peculiar and disobedient. All of the trophies guard their unlock requirements from view, the manual doesn’t offer many suggestions and menus are hidden behind weird button combinations. It’s not incomprehensible for players to turn to the internet and ask “what am I supposed to do?” within five minutes.

That’s not to say I’m baffled at the thought of simply “playing” with games. I like to goad the police in Grand Theft Auto just for irrelevant car chases, I like to find my own gaps and photo opportunities in Skate and I like to attempt jumps and flips in Burnout Paradise. But in those games, the free-form, sandbox fun comes as a natural extension of the readymade gameplay, while Noby Noby Boy is created simply for playing, interacting, trying and stretching – like a baby’s toy, designed purely as tactile stimulus for a developing mind.

Noby comes alongside a number of more traditional games that have tried, to varying degrees of success, to take out elements of game design and see if they still function; like a rookie mechanic trying to understand the workings of a car. Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia took out challenge and difficulty, facing a polarising audience of appeased relaxers and upset hardcore gamers. Dead Space toyed with the notion of no HUD; some saw it as increased immersion, others as increased frustration.

Dead Space

The most unlikely bedfellows, but Dead Space made headlines and caught attention as EA did away with traditional on-screen health meters and maps. For some, less is more.

But Noby Noby Boy took out guidance and direction, hoping that gamers would be able to parse the game’s logic, understand its controls and then go out and discover something fun to do – something I haven’t yet found. So that leaves me disappointed with Noby Noby Boy; not because it’s too wacky to wrap my head around, or too juvenile to be seen playing, but because I simply don’t want to generate my own fun – I’m not a game designer, I’m just a gamer.







6 responses to “He’s Got Nothing on Stretch Armstrong”

  1. MrCuddleswick avatar

    I agree with the sentiment – a designer could spend years developing a wonderful sandbox, but if there aren’t any clear goals, it can feel like you’re just treading water when you play it.

  2. Kirsten avatar

    Stunning blog. I’m really interested in this game. I’ll get on it when I’m less busy. Of course sticking a cute baby in a blog is a cheap shot even when it is super appropriate because the entire rest of the blog could say blah, blah, blah and no one would mind because “awww cute”!

  3. Mark avatar

    Haha, thanks Kirsten. I mean, I say I’m dissapointed, but it was only about £3, so its all relative 😉

  4. James avatar

    Good work sir, an excellent read.
    Loved the absence of HUD in Dead Space. Allowed me to look through the screen rather than at it. Occasionally the rookie mechanic gets it absolutely spot on and deserves a chocolate Hob-Nob.

  5. Tony avatar

    It’s weird. Even though you’ve not exactly given this game a glowing testimonial, you’ve peaked my interest enough that I set it downloading last night before bed. At £3.19 it’s well below my £5 “I’ll just give it a punt” price level, anyway.

    Now I begin to understand why someone commented on my article about my great difficulties swapping a PS3 hard drive saying that they might do it!

  6. Tony avatar

    Well, I’ve played it for a while now. If I had to describe it in one word it’d be: Mental. Two words: Totally mental. Five words? Completely and utterly flipping mental.

Leave a Reply