A puzzle-platformer that fails to go outside the box.
With BoxBoy!’s sequel having been announced during E3, and with some recent Nintendo eShop sales, now seemed like perfect time to try this game. Plus, I was drawn to the genre and the cute protagonist.
Developed by Hal Laboratory and published by Nintendo, BoxBoy! is a puzzle-platformer with a minimalist art style. While many reviews solely talk about BoxBoy!‘s mechanics, it is worth noting that BoxBoy! does have a narrative behind the action. Of course, this story takes a backseat to the gameplay and can be difficult to fully parse out.
We play as Qbby (a little box with eyes and legs) whose goal is to keep advancing to the right of the basic hub world: a series of doors to represent worlds, each with a level-selection menu. In the hub world, there are spots of deadly black bubbles stuff. The only way to get past these areas is to beat all the levels in a world. So, after completing World 1, Qbby is able to advance to World 2—simple enough. Story doesn’t really begin to take shape until after completing World 2, when you (presumably) free a new box friend during a cut scene. Early on in the game a mysterious monument appears, and throughout the game you have some very brief cut scene interactions with it.
Honestly, the story is pretty vague and is mainly filled in by the player’s own back pocket gaming clichés. That being said, I’d say BoxBoy! probably has something to do with restoring balance to some world or another. And while I begrudgingly applaud the game’s final cut scene for being awwww-inducing, the story itself was far from awe inducing. I understand that this game “isn’t about the story”, but that doesn’t give it a pass to have a boring, vague, and contrived one.
As far as the gameplay, BoxBoy! is driven by a simple but wonderful premise: Qbby can generate boxes from his body. Each level has a specific number of boxes Qbby can generate from his body at one given time (listed on the bottom screen as box limit). For an added challenge, there is a number listed for how many boxes one should need to get through the level (listed as “boxes remaining”). And for the completionists, there are crowns in each level to collect.
Qbby’s power never changes, nor does he get new ones. Instead, what changes is your understanding of the power. As you go through the game, you are presented with new obstacles that require you to think a bit more critically: using your boxes to create platformers, bridges, a shield, a sort of rope, and more.
However, the game clearly teaches you how to navigate these by including very quick “tutorials.” These “tutorials” appear at the start of some levels to highlight different ways you can use your box generating power or how to get past a new an obstacle. To me, this removed unnecessary guesswork and potential frustration while being brief enough to avoid being invasive to the experience.
As someone who is a fan of puzzle games, BoxBoy! failed to challenge me. I’m the gamer who—without fail—eventually reaches for the guide and does so without apologies. But in 102 levels, I was not stumped once, and I’d say I felt challenged in maybe 5 instances. I was able to beat each level without going above my “allotted” number of boxes, and I collected most crowns without having to exert additional effort.
BoxBoy! has a clear and steady progression of difficulty. It even has quality level-design, yet it lacks much else. I am not connected to the character or story, and the puzzles are too easy for me to be enamored by the gameplay. BoxBoy! is a game that is technically proficient but fails to stand out. And with 102 levels of basic black and white art paired with a soundtrack worthy of only a loading screen, finishing this game felt like a chore. So much so that when I unlocked the bonus worlds I said “No thank you” and turned off the game immediately after the credits.
Across the internet, fans and critics are enamored by BoxBoy! because what it does, it does well; however, proficiency is not enough to make a great game. In a sea of other puzzle-platformers, BoxBoy! is forgettable.
It’s worth noting BoxBoy! offers more than a campaign. By completing levels and collecting crowns throughout the game, you get “medals.” Medals can be used to purchase a variety of things from costumes for Qbby to tips & tricks if you get stuck during the game. Upon completing the 17-world campaign, with 6 levels in each world, players unlock bonus worlds. Another way players can continue the gameplay, if they’ve already collected all the crowns, is to partake in the game’s two challenge modes: time attack and score attack (one being a test of speed and one being a test of collecting, respectively).
BoxBoy! would have a lot of replay value if I thought it was worth playing in the first place.