Developer: HAL Laboratory Inc.
Platform: 3DS (eShop)
Release Date: April 2nd, 2015
ESRB: E for Everyone
HAL Laboratory has come a long way since the late eighties. Most known for the Kirby series, as well as their involvement in both Super Smash Bros. and EarthBound/MOTHER, the development team has proven their mastery of both simple and complex ideas over the years. BOXBOY!, their newest game, takes a simple premise and shows you how complex it can be. It may be the game“s black and white visual aesthetics getting the better of me and making me nostalgic for Kirby“s beginnings... but I feel like BOXBOY! could be the next great property for Nintendo and HAL to grow together, similar to Pushmo or The Denpa Men.
Are you a fan of minimalist games like Thomas Was Alone or Ibb and Obb? Just a quick look at the game“s visuals, before you even start to examine anything else, will prove that HAL isn“t exactly pushing the 3DS to its limits with this experience. BOXBOY!“s presentation is very simple to summarize. You“ll be lucky to see more than three colors in the game (black, white, and gray), and the music is less about epic, orchestral medleys and more likely to be described as a series of catchy beeps and whirs. It handles narrative without a single word, too. I wouldn“t even have known the main character“s name was Qbby if I didn“t check the manual or see it on the first level. Still, despite being wordless, the narrative is very charming overall.
When it comes to minimalist puzzle-platformers, the gameplay is certainly what matters the most. And thankfully, it“s where BOXBOY! absolutely shines. Qbby has a decent range of movement (you control him with either the joystick or the directional-pad), and he can jump a short distance as well. What makes BOXBOY a puzzle game, though, is how you use Qbby“s ability to make boxes appear from himself. Need to reach a high spot, but can“t quite reach it by jumping alone? Make a box appear, solidify it, and suddenly Qbby has something to jump on! These boxes can be duplicated a limited number of times (it varies from stage to stage), but be careful not to exceed your available boxes before you get all of a stage“s crowns! If you do, they disappear, and you can“t get a Perfect.
What are crowns? If you manage to obtain all of them for a Perfect rank, the game awards you with extra currency you can spend buying costumes for Qbby, as well as music, extra challenge stages (including time attack, score attack, and more difficult objectives), and even tips and tricks. Costumes start out as purely aesthetic in nature (the designs are pretty charming... imagine a BoxKnight), but in the late-gate, costumes start enhancing Qbby“s abilities (such as a Bunny costume that gives Qbby a larger jump distance, and more).
Over seventeen worlds with anywhere from five to eight stages, BOXBOY! offers a steady incline as far as difficulty goes. It does a really good job of showing you how to achieve its objectives, and the many interesting ways that boxes can be used to get Qbby where he needs to go. Things happen that you wouldn't expect, like being able to create a three box (two up, one right) â€œhookâ€ that hooks Qbby onto a high cliff, then allows him to propel himself to the top of it from there when he“s hooked. The gameplay got a lot more complex than I ever thought it would. While I found myself moving at a leisurely pace during the five, maybe six hours I played through it before seeing the credits...the endgame got pretty tricky!
If a level“s mechanics do prove to go slightly over your head, you can spend a single Play Coin (the coins awarded to you for traveling/walking with your 3DS) to get an in-game Hint that visually shows you what combination of blocks is required to get Qbby where he needs to go. And unlike most games, BOXBOY! doesn't punish you for using its Hint system. You can still get every single unlockable and get 100% completion, even if you choose to spend a Play Coin in every single level!
BOXBOY!“s only flaw is that it feels like the beginning of something versus a complete, cohesive experience. Even with all its extra content—as far as the main story goes—the levels feel like they introduce cool ideas, but don“t really do much with them. The Last World offers a cohesive â€œlook at all you“ve learned for the last sixteen worldsâ€ experience, but beyond that you“ll rarely see a concept introduced in one world used in the next. Still, the game is $4.99, and you“re given the option to send a demo to a friend.
I think BOXBOY! is meant to introduce the next new idea from Nintendo/HAL. It doesn“t do a ton, but it“s not at a price where I would expect a ton. All in all, I“d say this game is worth spending the money on. It“s the kind of puzzling fun that leaves you wanting more, but better for having experienced it.
+ Gameplay is fun and intuitive, and introduces a wide variety of features that diversify an otherwise simple premise.
+ The game will never punish you for getting stuck, and all of its extra content (whether fun or useful) is relatively simple to obtain.
- The game's length isn't necessarily to its detriment, but many ideas are simply introduced instead of expanded upon as they should be.
Overall Score: 8 (out of 10)
BOXBOY! could be the next great property for Nintendo and HAL to grow together.
Disclosure: This game was purchased by the author of this review.