Noby Noby Boy: Just keep telling yourself, “It’s not a game”


Do you remember how to play?

Not game, mind you, but play.

I mean, play in a way that doesn’t require you to collect anything, or kill anything, destroy anything or beat a timer. To play for play’s own sake.

When I first booted up Noby Noby Boy on the PS3, I didn’t realize how much I had forgotten how to simply play. It reminded me very very quickly.

Noby Noby Boy (‘Noby’ loosely translates as ‘stretch’ in Japanese) is the latest project from Namco Bandai and Kaita Takahashi of Katamari Damaci fame, and while NNB shares much of the same aesthetic style and surreal imagery with its spiritual predecessor, it features none of the gameplay mechanics of KD. In fact, it doesn’t feature any real gameplay.

That’s because it’s not a game.

If I had paid attention to the tutorial and relaxed a bit, that piece of information would have spared me a lot of initial frustration trying to accomplish goals and doing things to earn some of the PS3 trophies buried in it. All but one of the trophies are secret and led me to believe that if there are things to accomplish to earn them, then I should start trying to accomplish things.

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I should have just relaxed, but I kept trying to play it ‘right’ instead of just playing it. After settling down a bit, I realized that it is no more a game than a Rubik’s Snake, a playground swing or a blob of Silly Putty is, but provides the same sort of relaxing, amorphous sense of play that they do.

NNB allows you to control ‘Boy’ with the left and right sticks, head and rear sections, respectively. You can stretch Boy across the entire length of the playing surface, but doing so makes him more and more unwieldy. But, stretching him is also the best way to take advantage of the robust physics engine and enjoy the candy-colored objects and environments on each map.

The maps are flat, square-shaped planes covered with animals, people, sports and playground equipment, giant dice, bubble spouting robots, etc. etc. Boy can interact with almost everything, crawling over on top of around and through the larger objects, can eat the smaller ones and give rides to humanoid and animal characters that populate the playing fields.

The joy of NNB comes in trying to see what weird thing you can do next. Trying to weave Boy over around and through objects on the playground, or consume every object you can manage to, see how many creatures you can get onto your back and then see if you can launch them off the playing field and into space.

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What little gameplay there is consists of stretching Boy out as far as possible and then uploading that information to the game server. That length is added to the length of Girl who is stretching from earth to the moon, mars and beyond. Girl grows based on submissions of length from all NNB players and every time Girl reaches a new planet, it unlocks a new playable area with it’s own maps for all players to use.

Players can see how they stack up against other player’s contributions to Girls overall growth and the leaderboard keeps track of biggest daily contributions and a visual representation of where all NNB players stand in relation to each other.

Five days after the game launched, Girl reached the moon, unlocking for the whole community…Mars is next and then the remaining planets in the solar system, if player contributions and interest hold out that long. Chances are it will for a while, as players helped Girl reach the moon well before the NNB team estimated they would, according to a published preview of the software.

In addition to the play mechanics, NNB also takes a lot of advantage of the PS3’s networking capabilities. Players can take and save screenshots, record in-game videos and save them to their HDD or upload them to their YouTube accounts. Players can also send messages to friends while in game and create 32 character messages that will be displayed on their Boy.

The fun isn’t completely unmarred ,though. The camera takes a LOT of getting used to. It becomes very easy to lose track of either end of Boy, especially when stretched out, and extremely difficult to figure out how to regain your perspective. You are provided a great deal of control over the camera; you can zoom in and out by pressing L1 and tilting the six axis and you can rotate your perspective of the map by tapping L1 or R1. You can also manipulate the camera in a variety of other ways, none of which are very intuitive, and you will probably find yourself having to refer back to the in-game manual to figure it all out.

Getting to the menu is also cumbersome, having to move the left stick in one of four directions and hitting the select button will activate four different functions, but again a trip to the manual or a series of trail and error attempts was often needed before being able to do anything.

The graphics are simple and charming, and the gentle acoustic soundtrack sets the right tone of simple, innocent play, but is nowhere near as memorable or catchy as Katamari’s and is easily forgettable. Occasionally the playing surface will glitch out, exposing the interior framework and not all of the controls seems to work the way they’re supposed to. Jumping can be a hit-or-miss exercise and grabbing objects doesn’t seem to come naturally to Boy.

I first wanted to find a neck on Boy and wrap my hands around it and squeeze until he was a Noby Noby Corpse, but I soon relaxed and accepted what NNB was…an interactive toy that expands and provides more playtime and possibilities the more people play with it and the more time they invest in it.

The collaborative aspect is an inspired move and despite a few frustrating flaws NNB becomes an addictive and inspired step in the evolution of games by rejecting the existing conventions and reinterpreting how gamers interact with their software and each other. Plus, at an impulse-buy ready $4.99 (U.S.) and £3.19 (UK) price-point, this should be a no-brainer for PS3 owners…after all, admit it, you pay more for less fun all the time.

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  1. Wow I wish I had a PS3 to play this game. It looks too strange to miss out on.

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