Is Noby Noby Boy a game?

Noby Noby Boy is a piece of interactive software that, at it’s best, forces you to question the very definition of what a game is and can be.  At it’s worst, it is software that you immediately regret having spent $5 on and, somewhere in between, makes you wonder if something went terribly wrong during the translation from Japanese to English.


Noby Noby Boy is a game — I think.  You control a stretchy four-legged creature named Noby Boy who can elongate his body and eat anything.  Sometimes people will ride atop you, and sometimes they will run from you.  Sometimes a squirrel with antenna will appear in the corner of the screen to tell you your game has been saved.  There is also a parrot that will fly across the screen, which is very important according to the in-game manual, because if the parrot doesn’t fly, then you can’t play online.  There is also a Noby Girl who is trying to traverse the universe to bring people together.  Her progress is based on how far you can stretch yourself.  If this all sounds very confusing, don’t worry, you are not alone.  I may speak with conviction, but I have no idea what is going on in the world of Noby Noby Boy.

Noby Noby Boy comes to us from the mind of Keita Takahashi, creator of the equally strange game Katamari Damacy.  In Katamari you play as a small space creature who rolls a sticky ball around Earth’s cities and playgrounds collecting items to replace stars which your drunken space-giant father has accidentally destroyed.  Your sticky rolling ball swells and grows as it collects more and more items, which serves as an interesting visual reward for progression through the levels.  Noby Noby Boy does not have any kind of progression reward, or even a true goal.  In defense of the game though, it makes no attempt to hide this.  After learning how to control Noby Boy, the game informs you that there is no end goal or true motivation.  You are only there to experiment.

This is where the problem lies in the “game.”  With no motivation or reward, what is the point of playing?  Takahashi has supplied Sony with something akin to Microsoft Paint for the PlayStation 3: a piece of colorful creative software that you can do interesting things with, but not something you can play.

Takahashi strives to question modern gaming’s cliches, openly dismissing current popular gaming genres.  He is essentially a game designer who does not like games.  Noby Noby Boy is his brave experiment.  It can certainly serve as creative expression for both the player and the designer, but can it be defined as a game?  There is no high score to beat, no narrative to unravel, nor is there any real tangible reward for playing.  It’s just a weird stretchy thing that you can manipulate.  Is it worth $5 to take part in Takahashi’s gaming experiment?  Along with my perception of what exactly Noby Noby Boy is, I must admit that I have no idea.

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Just in case you missed The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

I wrote the following as practice back in February when The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom released. I like the way Kotaku.com presents reviews, and when I noticed at the time that they had not posted a Winterbottom review, I decided to take a crack at writing something for them. It was completely unsolicited and they understandably never got back to me. Randomly e-mailing fully written unsolicited reviews to gaming sites isn’t the way to get published I have since learned. Thought I should present it here though so that it doesn’t just disappear into the void of my Google Docs account. If you haven’t played the game already, you should, it’s a sweet game. And yes, those last four words are intended as a pun.

The Misadventures of P.B Winterbottom tells the tale of P.B. Winterbottom and his insatiable desire for pie.  The man will literally stop at nothing to consume pie, even if it means venturing into the fourth dimension, starving small children or burning down an entire city.  The man really has an addiction problem.

Winterbottom borrows many elements from Braid, and smartly leaves behind the pretentious storytelling.  You are a man searching for pie, specifically a magical floating pie with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

Loved
The pie filling – It may really just be a story about collecting pie, but there is some interesting narrative here, presented as a few lines of rhyming prose between levels.  The writing is funny, and plays with your expectations of the kind of character you assume Winterbottom is to become.  There are also some neat visual storytelling cues related to the time travel aspect of the game.

The pie crust – The game has a great art style.  Perhaps best described as Jack Skellington fighting Professor Layton in downtown London during the industrial era.  There is very little color in the game, which is used to great effect in highlighting puzzle elements.

The pie taste – As mentioned earlier, Winterbottom borrows from Braid.  Even the level selection screen reminds you of the 2008 Xbox Live Arcade classic.  You won’t be rewinding time like you do in Braid, but you will be cloning yourself heavily to solve puzzles with a recording mechanic.  There aren’t any enemies, or at least not the kind you can attack.  This is strictly puzzle solving, the kind where you may find yourself intently staring at the screen with the game unpaused planning your every move.

The sound of the pie – The music is great, especially the track of the opening levels of the game.  I was ready to spend my 800 points based purely on it’s musical merit while playing through the demo.  It starts out very upbeat and jazzy, but as you progress into the game the musical notes get drawn out, and the upbeat drums and piano eventually disappear.  The change is gradual and you may not notice it immediately, but it is effective and appropriate.  The music in the beginning of the game is drastically different emotionally than the music in the end, and it works.

Hated
Only a few pieces of pie – The story line portion of Winterbottom only took me about 4 hours to complete.  The fat on this game has been trimmed to the point where you very rarely find yourself repeating puzzle techniques.  They could have easily made multiple levels using the same techniques, and I would have been happy with that.  No harm in reassuring me that I know what I am doing by repeating certain techniques, right?  Makes me feel smart.

Where’s the extra pie? – There aren’t any hidden elements to any of the levels.  I would have loved to have an excuse to go back to the story levels to find a hidden piece of pie in that difficult nook in the corner of the screen, but Winterbottom’s pie addiction prevents him from leaving a level without first eating all the pie.  It could have added some replay value, and some length to the game overall if there was pie hidden throughout the levels that you did not necessarily need to progress to the next level

Winterbottom is a great, albeit short little puzzle game with an attractive art style, sweet jams and just enough challenge to make you feel like a genius without having to buy new a controller to replace the shattered one you just threw against the wall.  There is a time trial mode which plays a little bit differently that the story level.  I’m glad it’s there, but I did not find it nearly as compelling as the time limit free puzzle levels.  The length probably could have allowed for a slightly smaller price tag, but at the same time, there are a lot worse games that can be had for the same price on Xbox Live Arcade, so there isn’t much to complain about.

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom was developed by The Odd Gentlemen and published by 2k Play.  Released on February 17th for $10 for Xbox Live Arcade.  Completed all story line levels and the first five time trial levels.  Unlocked 7 out of 12 achievements.  Was left humming the opening music theme and craving more pie.

The Record of Purchasing The Record of Agarest War

My wife and I went game shopping today, which had been a completely foreign concept to me until recently. The idea of entering a game store with the intention of looking around and buying a game based on something other than hardcore internet research, was a strange idea. While working at Gamestop, I never shopped for a game in the traditional sense. I always knew exactly what I wanted, and knew exactly how much I needed to pay for it. If I had not been paid to spend seven to eight hours standing around in the store, I’m sure I never would have spent more time in there than what it took me to wait in line and ask for the game I wanted.

My wife though, she enjoys the shopping process, and it’s the easiest way to visualize all the new releases. She was the one who initiated the trip to Gamestop, as she was finally beginning to treat Final Fantasy XIII as job and not a game. I was hoping she would buy Red Dead Redemption, but purely for selfish reasons. I am currently wrapped up in a Super Mario Galaxy 2 love affair, but I have a strange desire to always have the next game in my queue within my possession. She does not like action games, nor has she ever been interested in open world games. She has never played any of the Grand Theft Autos, but did take a passing interest in the story and character elements of GTA IV. She likes RPG’s almost exclusively, but I thought that if she played Red Dead Redemption, however brief, I could at least see what it looked like while I was traipsing the universe with Mario.

Our current setup, which would allow me to literally see Red Dead while Mario and I explore the cosmos.

So, we were in line, ready to grab a Red Dead, when Ashley saw Record of Agarest War on the back counter. It was an Xbox RPG, and that was all she needed to know. She couldn’t even see the price tag from our vantage point and she said, “I’ll get that.” The clerk snickered. The only thing I knew about this game was all the sexual innuendo associated with it. I told Ashley, “this game comes with a boob mousepad.” Ashley didn’t even make eye contact when she said, “I don’t care, it’s an Xbox RPG. I need something to play.”

The really embarassing to buy with onlookers edition would have been more appropriate.

The clerk went to the back to retrieve the game and a small line appeared behind us. When the clerk reappeared with, The Really Naughty Limited Edition of Ashley’s requested game, she felt it was vitally important to repeatedly point out the suggestive images that adorned the spine of the box. We admitted complete ignorance to the content and plot of the game, but the clerk insisted on pointing out the images to us, and subsequently the folks waiting patiently behind us. The clerk also kept saying that the game had a lot of, “fan service,” something that is apparently crucial for a player who knows nothing about the game. Fan service must have been her code word for pornography. For me, fan service implies that the game has something that would appeal to fans of the series, something Ashley and I clearly were not.

We rang up the game, and I passed on Red Dead, partly becasue $60 is a lot for a game that won’t even get played until Mario had risked life, limb and mustache to retrieve every single last star, but also because the customers behind us could see that we had bought a game with pictures like this adorning the side.

I can't imagine there is any way to explain that top image without at least some awkward stuttering.

And that pretty much explains Ashley’s frothing demand (to quote one of the greatest box quotes ever) for Xbox RPG’s. She will play anything that can be described with the word Xbox and the acronym RPG, no matter how much clothing the female protagonists may or may not be wearing, or as we have learned today, what they have in their mouths. I have also found that perceived quality of these games plays a very small role in the purchase decision as well. Do you know anyone else who has very nearly finished Divinity II?

UPDATE

According to Wikipedia, it turns out the clerk was right. Fan service does sort of mean pornography. I was totally oblivious. Ashley has been playing the game and has not seen any sort of special attention payed towards any of the female characters assets. The game is (as of about five hours in) completely unsexual. The casing was designed purely to embarrass the consumer. Way to go Aksys Games!

My Cat Loves Pokemon

I refuse to believe that my wife and I were the first ones to come up with this idea.

I left the poke walker on my cat to walk my Chikorita, “Leaf-head,” around for a few hours.  When I checked to see how he was doing I saw that there was a couple droplets of water on the poke walker.  I can only assume and hope they came from drinking from his water bowl.  No harm done, but I took the walker off in fear of it getting wet and put it on the far more rambunctious cat, Colonel Mustard.  He tends to sprint around the house for absolutely no reason at blurring speeds, so I figured he was more likely to turn Leaf-head into an unstoppable fighting machine than Agro was.

I chased down Colonel Mustard, which involved me pulling him out from under the dining room table, and strapped Leaf-head to his neck.  Upon donning his new jewelry, Mustard sat there, did nothing, and decided to try and gnaw on this new weight on his collar.  Surprisingly, he found it very difficult to get something wrapped around his neck into his mouth.  I promptly removed it.

We decided to try the next idea, one my wife had been proposing since learning about the poke walker and it’s, ‘force kids to exercise’ capabilities. You can try this next one at home!  All it takes is some yarn (or any other kind of string), some scotch tape and a ceiling fan.  I think you can see where this is going.

We rigged the string to the walker, taped the string to the fan, and let a cool breeze flow through the room.  Long story short, it didn’t work.

Right now the walker is clipped, safely hidden, to the inside of the bottom cuff of my pants. Leaf-head is gaining levels as we speak while I play imaginary drumbeats with my left foot.