Keita Takahashi is a strange guy. He's most known for delivering the brilliant Katamari Damacy to us on the Playstation 2, a game in which you rolled around a ball that stuck to everything in the world, growing bigger and bigger as more and more stuff collected on it. But after that early success, he's gotten weirder, at one point saying that he didn't want to make games at all, and then releasing Noby Noby Boy for the PS3, an "experience" in which you stretch a tubelike creature named BOY, which in turn stretches another creature named GIRL, out into the solar system with all of other players in the world. It's the kind of thing that has to be played to be understood, and even then, you don't understand it so much as experience it.
Noby Noby Boy on the iPhone is a similar release: while it's an app that comes from a game platform, it's actually in the Productivity section of the App Store. Even though the goal seems to again be to stretch the BOY out as far as you can, while in turn stretching GIRL along with PS3 players ("cross-platform compatibility!" exclaims the ingame Fairy, the most charming and weird help system you've ever seen), it's really just a chance for Takahashi's brilliance to run wild on the iPhone platform. There's more to explore, do and experience in this app than any other $1.99 app I've seen, and while some of it is wacky, and strange, and just plain crazy, Noby Noby Boy is a product of imagination -- both his and ours.
Just like Takahashi's other projects, Noby Noby Boy is both easy to use and hard to explain. Fairy helps by bringing in some interesting explanations as you browse through the app for the first time, but really, most of the app is just an invitation to play and twist and explore using all of the iPhone's various interfaces and features. You can just stretch the BOY by using multitouch, or you can switch to a GPS screen, and stretch him by moving out into the real world. You can use the camera to take pictures in a few different ways, including an augmented reality-style view that has the BOY bouncing around a real-time view from the iPhone's camera (even on my 1G iPhone). You can play music straight from the iPhone's library, but the UI is of a music-bot, whose hands and feet are the controls. You can keep "notes" on BOY in a number of different categories, using a wild little mini-app that prints letters on the creature as it stretches. And you can email and correspond with other "players," including uploading your stretching to increase the GIRL's length, or just emailing pictures of whatever you've created in the game.
Some people will load up Noby Noby Boy and wonder what the point is, and that's a fair reaction -- even Takahashi admits in this game that his PS3 version didn't quite go over as planned. But there's so much to do and play with and explore here that the app asks a little bit of imagination from the player as well -- it's up to you what you want to do with what he's created. Just wanted to make a silly picture and send it to your friend? You can. Want to dive in and figure out how to stretch the BOY farther, looking for secrets about how the game works in the background? Go ahead. Want to just start up the GPS, turn the game off, and travel as far in the real world as you can, checking back later to see what's happened in the app? You can do that, too.
We've had quite a few games released on the App Store, obviously, and while a lot of them have been copies or re-releases from games that would work on other platforms, very few have been experiences that could only happen on the iPhone. Noby Noby Boy for iPhone is one of those. Something as crazy as this could only have come from Takahashi, and all of the things he's created here could only have been put together on the iPhone. That's a great achievement for just $1.99.