BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! Review
BoxBoy never seemed like the kind of game that would develop into a series. When HAL Laboratory debuted BoxBoy on the 3DS back in 2015, this quirky puzzle platformer with low-fi graphics seemed like an experimental one-off that had somehow squeaked through the greenlight process. Since then, this little square-jawed hero has proven he's more than a one-hit wonder. For his fourth outing, BoxBoy is joined by BoxGirl and the tall box, Qudy, for a couch co-op friendly adventure filled with some of the most creative and diverse puzzles in the series.
BoxBoy's mechanics are deceptively simple. You are asked to string together a limited number of boxes to use as stairs, bridges, and other makeshift tools that allow you navigate an austere and obstacle-riddled world. BoxBoy's plain aesthetic puts a spotlight on HAL’s puzzle design. Early puzzles start off a little too easy, assuming players haven't engaged with the series before. However, as you slowly unlock new abilities, the puzzles become significantly more captivating and inventive.
Many of BoxBoy + BoxGirl's puzzles require some out-of-the-box thinking, but I was rarely stumped for more than a few minutes. If you ever get completely stuck, a hint system readily shows you the solution and can keep you from pulling out your hair. I also appreciate that you often have multiple ways to approach each objective. But if you really want to challenge yourself, you can tackle each level with a limited number of boxes, which earns you coins that can be redeemed for oddball cosmetic items. These cosmetics don’t affect the gameplay, but I had a lot of fun dressing up my boxes as cat detectives and balding vampires.
Some old power-ups return. For example, you can still chain boxes together like a grappling hook and zip to new areas, which is always fun. I was particularly surprised by BoxBoy's new skills, like his ability to fling boxes across the room or pound them into the ground. These new talents seem deceptively simple at first, but their merits are more apparent as you use them and each new level encourages you to use your abilities in novel ways. Every time I unlocked a new set of puzzles, I was surprised by the level of creativity and the unique solutions I was able to engineer from BoxBoy’s offbeat toolset.
But BoxBoy is only one of the stars of this show. A second campaign starring both BoxBoy and BoxGirl allows two players to solve puzzles together. Many of the mechanics and themes from the single-player campaign return, but they are given new life since you have two sets of boxes at your disposal, and you can build increasingly unusual shapes. Some puzzles even ask you to navigate certain characters to specific points in the level, which is a neat twist. You can play through this campaign by yourself, switching between characters on the fly, but I had the most fun coordinating my box stacking with another player.
A third unlockable campaign stars an extra tall box named Qudy. Since Qudy's boxes are double-sized, he is able to quickly scale tall platforms and can practically vault over vast gaps. Qudy can rotate horizontally or vertically, which affects the orientation of his boxes. Again, this sounds like a simple change, but it has far-reaching consequences, and I was often left scratching my head trying to figure out how to squeeze Qudy's awkward body through a series of relatively simple-looking obstacles.
Despite consistent performance over the last several years, this blocky franchise remains relatively obscure, which is a shame because BoxBoy’s adventures are engaging. HAL Laboratory does a great job shaking up the mechanics from one set of levels to the next so the action never grows stale, which seems extra impressive after four entries. We’ve already been given more BoxBoy games than I ever expected, but I hope they don’t stop coming anytime soon.