Flushed with the success of last years Super Smash Bros., HAL Laboratories’ latest title rejects their usual colourful capers in favour of a Minimalist aesthetic that’s more MoMA than Mario.
With visuals strongly reminiscent of early Gameboy titles, Boxboy is a puzzle game where players take control of the aptly named Qbby, who must negotiate his way through various perilous landscapes in order to save his stricken homeland. Each level assigns you a number of boxes to create from your own image, and players must utilise these to traverse environments and reach the goal.
Starting out gently with the pushing and throwing of shapes to facilitate building steps and bridges, the game soon begins to bombard players with more complex obstacles, with lasers and switches prompting the first symptoms of what may later develop into full-fledged head scratching.
Boxboy! - In pictures
By the fourth world, the concept of hooking is introduced, where Qbby jumps while holding L-shaped box arrangements, allowing him to latch onto otherwise too-distant platforms and then retract back into the furthest reaching box. The puzzles steadily grow more difficult, and the solutions to solve them become more ingenious, giving an enormous sense of satisfaction when you reach the end goal.
The more time you spend with the game’s four-sided hero, the more his charm is revealed. When you see Qbby vibrate with joy at unlocking new worlds, or wince when hit on the head by bonus coins dropping at the end of each stage, you realise what an impressive feat it is for HAL to have squeezed such an infectious personality from six lines and a pair of dots.
In addition to reaching the end goal of each stage, there are several crowns to collect along the way, and this is where Boxboy finds replay value – if players use too many boxes to get through a level, the crowns disappear and can’t be collected. This frequently leads to new approaches, where players must embrace the minimalism of the game’s design and use only the essential boxes in order to progress, carefully planning each move.
New mechanics come and go as Qbby solves his way through the worlds, keeping the game fresh and interesting right to the end, where combining skills learned in earlier worlds with those from later levels becomes important. Time and score attack stages liven up proceedings, and the game’s shop is stuffed with various ways to spend tokens earned, including some cute costume additions ranging from sunglasses to afro haircuts.
For a pick up and play title, Boxboy fits the bill ideally, perfect for a short blast on the morning train to wake up the grey matter, or to unwind for a few minutes at the end of a long day. Full of charm and thoughtful design, Boxboy shows there’s nothing wrong with being square.