You might know Keita Takahashi as the creator of Katamari Damacy, the PlayStation 2 favorite about rolling a space ball over everyone and everything on Earth. If you don’t, then Noby Noby Boy is fairly revealing. This iPhone version of his PlayStation 3 game is tellingly listed in the Productivity section of the App Store. If you were looking for a game, you’ll be surprised to find tools like a memo pad and a clock. If you really had productivity in mind, you will find Noby Noby Boy decidedly less efficient and useful than your other apps. But that’s Takahashi’s way.
The PlayStation 3 game had you toying around with the wormlike protagonist BOY, who could stretch his body to absurd lengths and thus cause his counterpart GIRL to grow. This idea is central to Noby Noby Boy on the iPhone as well, which opens to BOY floating in black space with a row of app-like icons along the bottom. A little character named Fairy explains how each of these lets you play with BOY.
The first icon calls up various improbable objects—an octopus wearing a pacifier, a medley of huge fruits and vegetables, a forlorn-looking man with outstretched arms—with a pop. These “toys” can slide and collide with each other, but their interactions turn messy and uproarious with the addition of BOY. You can have BOY latch onto objects with both his front and rear arms; stretch and compress his ribbonlike body at will; even snip it apart and have the fragments snap back into place like magnets.
Like in the PS3 game, there is no specific goal here, except to find your own way to have fun. Give it a few minutes, and you’ll find Noby Noby Boy calling your creativity out of the closet. Essential is BOY’s penchant for making noise. His body acts like a cosmic guitar string—groaning tremulously when you grab it, and quivering with delight when you stretch it too tight. Maybe I’m a cheap gamer for not needing much more than that.
But that’s just the first icon. Noby Noby Boy is essentially a second iPhone in your iPhone. You can use your camera to produce new textures or live backgrounds for the action. You can conjure a gigantic dancing robot to play music from your library—the controls are his hands and feet. You can browse the Web and send emails with a snapshot of your current Noby Noby Boy screen attached. You can track your physical whereabouts via Google Maps and stretch BOY as far as you go in the real world. You can write little notes on BOY’s body, and you can call up a variety of funny clocks (BOY becomes the minute hand).
You don’t actually “play” most of Noby Noby Boy, which by itself is less a game than a playful recreation of your everyday life. But simply pulling and stretching BOY around the app—especially in the map and toy sections—makes hearts that he can give to GIRL, who is out traveling the solar system. The hearts cause GIRL to stretch a certain number of meters, bringing her ever closer to reaching the next planet (as if this writing, Saturn). This is the same GIRL that PlayStation 3 users have been growing for the past year. Here, you help stretch GIRL by sweeping the hearts into her mouth in a harrowing arcade-style sequence. So simply using the app contributes to the ongoing “game” of whittling down the hundreds of billions of miles between GIRL’s planetary stops. A special map marks all the locations on the globe where people have sent hearts to GIRL, and also shows their name and picture if they’ve chosen to connect the app to Facebook.
The initial build of Noby Noby Boy occasionally freezes when connecting with Facebook. But besides these outright bugs, some are certain to find the app inherently faulty. The music player doesn’t show the names of tracks and doesn’t let you browse your library, unless you count shuffle. The Web browser doesn’t let you enter a URL manually, so you’re stuck with the preloaded bookmarks and using Google to get anywhere. You can’t read your email; you can only send it. Even playing with BOY in the toy mode requires you to lose some control.
But that’s what gives Noby Noby Boy its charm: When you let go of your expectations of how a game or app should work, you find that this one grabs you with its own wiggly logic.