Boy, Girl, Snake, Poop – Noby Noby Boy


March 3, 2009

What I love about Noby Noby Boy is that you can play it for an hour and still be wondering what you’re quite playing. It’s like nothing else, it’s totally crazy, and it’s great fun – what more can you ask for? But I think the bigger question it asks is ‘What is the difference between a toy and a game’ – this piece of entertainment really blurs those lines.

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So what do you do? You’re a multi-coloured snake/worm called BOY, but you control both your head and your bum with the dual sticks. Pull them apart from each other and you will stretch out – press the sticks and they will pop back. Eat some stuff and it will travel through your snake body, and be pooped out when you’re full. Eat a pear and a human, and sometimes a human with a pear-head comes out! Each time you stretch out, you gain points for length which can be transferred to GIRL, another snake-like creature who is wandering through space trying to discover new planets – this is done by a visit to the sun. You can visit these planets to find new zones to play in. Simple, right?

Well no, it’s actually incredibly hard to control your snake/noby/worm/boy to any degree of satisfaction at first. It’s a bit like playing the piano, because controlling your arse and your head at the same time is plain confusing. Of course you can just move your head and your arse will eventually be dragged around, but once you grow to a decent length you will cause havoc if you just allow your arse to swing around with momentum behind you.

But the difficulties of control are only side-issues in such a virtual playground. At first I just liked popping inside my BOY house and transporting to different zones on Earth – each one seems kind of random, and will have a slightly different colour scheme and things to see. One was full of chefs riding on bears, another had lots of crabs and weird red webby structures, another was full of footballs and basketballs, another had big swingy swings throwing everyone about. Each level is a flat Earth with some weird gravity going on, so you can push things off the edge or up into the air for kicks. I enjoyed biting the legs off big robots and seeing them trying to stay upright without them. I liked knocking people off the bikes and cars they were riding around on. I liked taking pigs for a ride – somehow pigs seem to like that more than any other animals. Actually you start to notice traits in all the things you meet – the chefs, for example, would be drawn over to me but would just stand and stare at me, whereas other people either run away, ignore me, or jump on for a ride.

So you start to realise that whether or not this is a game or a toy or neither, there is a lot going on in here. There’s a mad-hard control system, a huge bunch of AI controlled characters, a myriad of different zones to play in, and a vague metagame set in space. Also, if you want there are a bunch of trophies to discover if you need some extra motivation to just do stuff. What there is not is a bunch of clearly defined goals for how you are meant to behave – once you have undertaken the obligatory tutorial you’re really free to do whatever you like. Even if that’s essentially nothing.

One of the fundamental ‘rules’ of games is that you have an objective, a motivation to continue. But I’m not sure Noby Noby Boy really has that. You don’t really grow as a character, and you lack the ability to really change the world around you. There’s a small motivation to simply stretch, because you can ‘upload’ your stretched progress towards the GIRL character in space to help her reach new planets, and new zones to explore. But because stretching requires no skill whatsoever, it almost feels like a by-product of mucking about rather than a reason for playing.

It’s partly like some sort of dreadful interactive art exhibit, but yet it is totally unpretentious. As a game it is intentionally lacking in terms of progress, excitement, achievement, motivation – the designers knew this but yet they didn’t care, and it ends up brave, original and totally unforgettable for that. It’s almost a parody of what a game should be like – you can learn how to control your worm as much as you like, it certainly ain’t gonna get you anywhere. What it does well is the attention to detail – the in-game manual, for example, is absolutely wonderful, you can fly through it with a 2D snake, eat the words and poop them out, and it even turned into a mad upwards-scrolling colour cascade at one point and started making weird noises and playing the music from Metro-Cross I think.

It’s a game to be confounded by, and in a good way. There’s even a hidden achievement for exiting the game – ironic, because that’s really the only thing you can achieve here.