Qbby (in the original BoxBoy!) first hit our screens in 2015. Released via the Nintendo eShop on the 3DS – it was quite a surprise to see just how much content and how clever the level design was for such a simple idea. Since then, Qbby has been joined by Qucy, some box children and even ‘The Long One’ Qddy. Now, 4 years and several sequels later, Qbby and the gang have made the jump onto the Switch. And while you would be forgiven for thinking that formula from Hal Laboratory would be getting old, instead, you have the terrific culmination of a great series. A game that is such uncomplicated fun; whether you’re a returning fan or this is your first BoxBoy experience you’re no doubt in for a treat.
All squared away
Starting the game you are immediately introduced to the idyllic and minimalist box planet world. Through a series of fantastic, short, non-spoken animated cut-scenes, you learn that the world is under threat. And it is up to you – either as Qbby or Qucy – to save the day. The story sounds basic. However, considering that you’re watching a bunch of line-drawn squares, with the simplest of expressions, it’s amazing how much they are able to transmit narratively. You can’t help but feel concern when your box children are taken and you are immediately drawn to the heroes of the game. It is this skill in simple, creative story-telling that immediately connects you to the game and when paired alongside the gameplay and visual aesthetic, shows that like the minimalist design Japan is known for – when executed well, less doesn’t always mean less.
It is this skill in simple, creative story-telling that immediately connects you to the game.
Visually the game may divide opinion. However, I found it to be absolutely stunning. The series is well-known for its monochromatic look, and while over the years splashes of colour have been added – this title feels like it got the balance just right. Things are still pretty black, white and grey, however, when appropriate to the tone and when needing to indicate something special – a palette of fresh greens, blues and pinks alternate with more muted background tones. The art style is plain and uncomplicated but looks clean and elegant. Everything (including info pages) are crisp and the strong contrasts really pop on the Switch’s screen. The attention to detail in the animation is also astounding and even just watching your box fall asleep due to lack of movement is great.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, while pleasant and definitely not terrible – did become a little repetitive and start to feel a little like really good elevator music. However, this was never distracting and because of the very nature of the game, the music is really secondary and can be enjoyed in the background. The discreet combination of the visuals and the sound matches the gameplay perfectly.
As you progress through the world, the puzzles get more and more challenging but remain super fun.
The gameplay is equally straightforward. In the game’s first mode (A Tale for One) you can select playing as either Qbby or Qucy. The little square title characters must move through world solving a series of platforming puzzles. At the start, running, jumping and expanding your body by one block is all you can do to move forward. However, as you progress through the world, these puzzles get more and more challenging.
It’s what’s in the box that counts…
The world is made up of a series of levels. Within each level are 5-7 stages that build on a specific mechanic. Whether you are a BoxBoy veteran or a new to the series, the game does an excellent job introducing you to the gameplay. The initial stages function as fun little tutorials guiding you through the basics of your move-set. And every time you learn a new ability – the stages are designed in such a way that you learn to use the skill progressively.
Whether you are a BoxBoy veteran or a new to the series, the game does an excellent job introducing you to the gameplay.
This progression is what makes BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! such fun to play. There is real ingenuity in the level design. While you’d think that running, jumping and expanding a block or two would get old very soon, the levels never feel boring. As soon as you’ve mastered one skill, you are introduced to another. And because each level of the world builds on the previous level – you begin to leverage one ability on top of another. The puzzles start off feeling quite easy, however, as your progress, these can really become challenging. However, you never feel that they are impossible and difficulty versus enjoyment is really well balanced. Every time you complete a puzzle you get that little buzz of accomplishment and due to their short length you can knock several out in a long session or even just one or two in handheld mode while you wait for your bus.
Despite some mechanics being reused from previous games, again and again, I was floored by the level of creativity. Each ability is wonderfully engaging. And while this would be fun on its own – using the various abilities in new ways and around interesting levels while timing jumps on flying drills, avoiding laser beams and electrified platforms and getting to switches in hard to reach places is fantastically enjoyable.
Every time you complete a puzzle you get that little buzz of accomplishment and due to their short length you can knock several out in a long session or even just one or two in handheld mode while you wait for your bus.
Additionally, you are awarded medals for completing a stage. And for an extra challenge, you can also attempt to obtain ‘target medals’ by completing extra tasks (eg. collecting special crowns in hard to reach places or completing the stage while only using a set number of boxes). Although none of these target medals is required to keep the story going – many are obtainable while completing the level on the first run. However, others do provide require a little extra skill for those looking for a higher difficulty and to 100% the game will take some doing. Having a ‘Boxes Used’ counter within each stage would’ve been a great addition for this purpose. The medals also serve as game currency.
While you can use medals to get hints for particularly tough puzzles, the most currency will be spent customising your character. Now, normally this is one part of modern games that don’t really do it for me. However, again the design and humour of BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! made dressing up my characters a heck of a lot of fun. You can also use your medals to unlock a balloon-popping minigame, a short series of 4-panel comics starring the BoxBoy cast and even some in-game assists (eg quicker movement speed, higher jumping, more boxes). I never felt the need to use the assists but this may be perfect for inexperienced players. The mini-games and comics were fine but felt a little like filler-fluff. However, because the base game has so much content and itself was so compelling – any additions feel very generous indeed.
Life is like a box of…more boxes
A Tale for One is a fantastic single-player puzzle experience. And it alone will keep you entertained and engaged for some time – especially considering that it has around 100 stages to complete. However, the features that really differentiate BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! from previous games in the series is the return of the rectangular Qddy as a playable character in his very own single-player adventure and more importantly the great two-player campaign – A Tale for Two.
The Tall Tale adventure has you completing a similar series of levels as in the main single-player campaign. However, this time there are fewer stages per level and Qddy’s unique elongated design and bending ability bring a whole new dimension to completing puzzles. For review purposes, I completed each campaign one after another in very short succession so did notice that there is some overlap of abilities and level design – however, I did not feel that these became too tiresome and still enjoyed each tale. And so I feel pretty confident that players attempting the game’s campaigns likely within a longer, more normal timeframe will feel that everything is still fresh with each playthrough.
Qddy’s unique elongated design and bending ability bring a whole new dimension to completing puzzles and the two-player co-op feels just as good, if not better, than the already great single-player experience.
Despite all the previous praise I mentioned above (great design, cool aesthetics, challenging but fun puzzles and so much content) the real kicker and probably the single factor that confirms that this is not only a great BoxBoy game but really a noteworthy example of the best the puzzle-platforming genre has to offer, is the addition of the two-player mode. This Tale for Two adventure takes all the features and adds a cooperative element. Despite being able to play this mode as a single-player (taking turns to control Qucy and Qbby alternatively) – playing with my wife had us laughing, chatting and triumphantly high-fiving as we completed puzzles together. Again, the design works so well in introducing new two-player concepts and as a couch co-op, it feels just as good if not better than the already great single-player experience. And to top it all off – only by completing all three campaigns do you finally see the true ending of the game.
This is the best puzzle platforming experience I have had in a long time. BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! provides a relaxed (and therefore accessible) puzzle platforming game which shines because of its simplicity and ingenious level design. And because of its excellent progression, it will have even experts first scratching their heads but then later, pumping their fists. Hal Laboratory has brought the series to the Switch and while breaking new ground in the two-player mode – it also feels familiar; the culmination of a great series. This game oozes creativity, is endlessly fun to play and should be a must buy for any Switch owner.