The Kirby team trades balls for cubes in this inviting puzzle-platformer.
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Released: April 2, 2015
BOXBOY! is the kind of game that makes me feel like a bad reviewer, because all I want to do is tell you why it’s fun. I can’t adequately explain what, exactly, is so fun about it – the vast majority of its puzzles are fairly simple, and even if you get stuck, the game offers hints (in exchange for 3DS Play Coins) to lay out the solution plainly. It’s a puzzle game that won’t often puzzle you. Nevertheless, it’s joyful stuff, and even if you won’t get a mental workout from it, the clever scenarios and elegant design are simply enchanting to experience.
Qbby is a cute little square with two dots for eyes and a pair of stick legs. He walks, he jumps, and he has the power to make less sentient squares sprout out of his body. Using his cloning abilities, Qbby can create platforms, allowing him to reach higher ground, or blocks with which to keep buttons pressed and doors open. It’s one of those neat ideas that is simple in practice, but flexible enough to be spun in a number of unique and clever ways.
Every world – comprising seven stages – is themed around a particular exploitation of the central premise. For example, Qbby’s squares can also be used as shields, built around himself to protect from lasers. By extending the squares from his body, and then retracting them back into himself, a hook-shaped formation may be utilized to grapple and climb ledges. Across seventeen core worlds, a single gimmick is built upon and evolved to incorporate all sorts of tricks, as gravity fields are used to pull blocks around the map, Lemming-like spiky creatures are guided to goals with Qbby’s platforms, and blockades are eliminated, Tetris-style, by filling in blank spaces.
Optional crowns can be collected in each stage for bonus rewards, and they disappear if you create and toss around more blocks than needed to complete the challenges. That’s the only real restriction, and even then you can safely experiment with block formations and press the shoulder buttons to restart from a generous checkpoint – there’s plenty of opportunity to rehearse a puzzle before doing it for real. There are no time limits, and death is a mere slap on the wrist – should Qbby fall in a pit or get fried by electricity, he’ll respawn right at the current puzzle’s start point. The idea is to relax, mess around, and have that aforementioned fun – something BOXBOY! is quite adept at providing.
Completing each stage nets a whole bunch of medals – with a bonus for collecting all the crowns – which can be spent in the shop on Qbby costumes, music tracks, tip manuals, and a series of Time Attack or Score Attack stages. The shop’s contents are drip-fed as main worlds are completed, and I really do wish there were more aesthetic choices. There’s a great selection of bonus missions to beat, but the costumes are thin on the ground – a minor complaint, but when Qbby looks as adorable as he does while dressed like a devil or bunny, it makes me wish there had been a wider selection of customization options.
Still, there’s a lot of content for a humble five buck game. As well as the seventeen worlds and challenges, there are post-game missions to enjoy, taking the simple ideas of the main game and expounding on them even more. Each stage itself shouldn’t take much more than a minute to complete, which makes it well suited to the portable space – it’s exactly the kind of game you can have a quick go on while waiting somewhere in public, or just need a brief distraction from the horrors of real life.
Eschewing the 3DS’ 3D capabilities entirely, HAL has opted for a straight 2D game with a bold, clear visual style. Everything’s got a monochrome look, with thick outlines detailing characters and objects, and solid ground rendered in pure black. It’s easy to work out what everything is from a simple glance, and I find something quite beautiful about the minimalism of it all. Some praise must be reserved for the soundtrack too, a lovely little selection of pleasant plinks and plonks that keep everything cheerful, even while some of the game’s subtle visual moments appear relatively dark and tragic.
While not a thoroughly outstanding game, BOXBOY! is an eminently pleasant, breezy little puzzle-platformer that offers some moderate challenge and focuses more on just having a nice time. A fuss-free, no-pressure adventure that takes a plain gimmick and showcases just how versatile it can be.
And it’s just too damn darling for its own good.