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Review: Noby Noby Boy

Susan Arendt | 26 Feb 2009 13:00
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It's really hard to know how to describe Noby Noby Boy, the PlayStation Network game from Keita Takahashi. I've been playing it for three days, and I still only barely know what's going on. It's baffling, weird, and only just barely a game, really, but it's still a delightful and entertaining experience. Plus, it has a Space Squirrel, which is always a bonus.

You play as Boy, who starts off as a tiny little pink peanut of a thing, but who can stretch into a long, floppy worm that's a dead ringer for Dr. Who's scarf. Stretching is simply a matter of using the left thumbstick to send Boy's head off in one direction while moving the right thumbstick to point his bum off in another. The maps you'll explore aren't terribly big, so you'll have to learn how best to maneuver around the landscape if you want to get really, really long. Which you do.

The point of all the stretching is to help Girl - who is like you only far, far bigger - grow large enough to stretch from the Earth all the way out into space. Every time you report your length to Girl, she gets that little bit bigger and stretches a tiny bit closer to her next celestial target. Whenever she reaches a planet, it unlocks, opening up new maps for Boy to explore.

Not that the randomly-generated maps require all that much exploring, really. They're little more than a smattering of bizarre objects and creatures scattered across a square floating in space. You're as likely to run into a hovering fish on an earth map as you are a dog wearing a space suit on the moon. Raindrops fall from doughnut-shaped clouds to rest on the ground like so many sesame seeds. Enormous Mario-esque mushrooms tower over sheep, giraffes, children, unicycles, stars, moon men (literally crescent moons with faces and feet) and all sorts of other weirdness. You can certainly tell that Takahashi's previous game was the charmingly wacko Katamari Damacy.

In addition to stretching, Boy can also eat objects and then shoot them out his butt. I don't mean he poops, I mean he shoots whatever he ate out of his butt. There doesn't really seem to be any reason to do it other than sheer hilarity, but that's justification enough. Occasionally, you will actually have to eat your butt; if Boy splits in two, it's the only way to become whole again. I'm not entirely convinced that Takahashi isn't just an unusually tall, gifted five-year-old.

Though it doesn't really look like it, Noby Noby Boy is actually a multiplayer game. Everyone who plays - and signs in to the PlayStation Network - adds their length to Girl and helps her grow. It's kind of like a bizarre version of Folding@Home, with thousands upon thousands of players each doing their small part to contribute to the greater good. Assuming you consider helping an enormous caterpillar get big enough to reach Mars "the greater good," that is.

Noby Noby Boy also sports a particularly fun and easy to use feature that lets you record movies and either save them to your hard drive or upload them directly to YouTube. And when I say "easy to use," I don't mean "easy to use after you spend an hour getting familiar with the controls," I mean so easy that my mom could do it. You'll need a YouTube account before you can upload any movies, of course, but the ability to show people what you mean by "giving the chicken a ride," rather than having to try and explain it, makes the minor inconvenience well worth it.

Here's the thing: Even if I tell you how to play Noby Noby Boy - how the mechanics work, what the goal is, all the typical "game" stuff - you're not going to really understand what it's like unless you actually try it for itself. There's something about it that's virtually indescribable, a feeling of happiness and community that no description of controls or camera is going to convey. It's friendly, inviting, simple, and quite unlike anything else. Which is not to say that everyone is going to get it - many, many people who try it will undoubtedly play for ten minutes, say "What the Jesus?" and toss it aside. And honestly, that's a perfectly fair reaction to Noby's particular brand of weirdness.

Bottom Line: Noby Noby Boy is, without doubt, something unique and special. As for whether it's fun, your mileage may vary based on your personal tolerance for weirdness.

Recommendation: Spend the five bucks. I can't tell you if you'll love it, hate it, or simply be baffled by it, but I do know it's something you should experience at least once.

Susan Arendt suspects that the Space Squirrel is actually a chipmunk, but she loves him anyway.

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