Nintendo’s geometric hero returns for another batch of peculiar box-based puzzles, and this time he’s brought a friend for a spot of co-op.
It may not be the most high-profile Nintendo release but BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! is still one of the most unexpected sequels of the year. When the previous game was called Bye-Bye BoxBoy!, and was specifically advertised as a farewell tour for the character, you don’t really expect him to come back, especially not when he’s the star of a fairly obscure puzzle franchise that looks like a low budget indie game (even though it’s by one of Nintendo’s most esteemed studios). But now he’s returned, and he’s not alone.
We must’ve missed a memo somewhere along the way but we thought this was merely a compilation of the previous three games, but it’s actually a proper sequel with new mechanics and 270 brand-new stages. The gameplay underneath is still largely the same but there are plenty of new tricks as well – as well some old ones that are unfortunately absent.
Despite what you might imagine the main character is not called BoxBoy, but instead goes by the rather less memorable Qbby, while BoxGirl is named Qucy. Whether that’s some kind of in-joke or just random presses on a keyboard we’re not sure, but BoxBoy’s lore does not run very deep and the story behind what’s going on always seems to be the same. Once again Qbby and his entourage are being menaced by an alien miasma and have to defeat it by… working their way from one end of a stage to the other.
Apart from being a box with legs, Qbby’s main claim to fame is that he can generate additional boxes out of his own body. The maximum number is limited by the specific stage you’re on but when there’s more than one he can move them up and down and left to right to make Tetromino style shapes. He can then detach the boxes whenever he wants and have them take the role of an impromptu bridge, set of stairs, a hook to navigate the perilous landscape, and more.
Whatever way you look at it this is clearly a very odd idea for a video game, and we’ve no idea how anyone at HAL Laboratory ever came up with it, but it works. The mechanics may be bizarre but the controls are extremely simple and the difficulty increases at a satisfyingly even pace, as you work out how to use your limited set of abilities to solve increasingly impossible-looking puzzles.
The basics have barely changed at all compared to the previous games, but what is brand new is the (offline only) co-op mode. This involves a separate set of puzzles, although you still have the option to play solo if you’re happy with controlling both characters at once. Although in theory Qbby and Qucy have the same powers the co-op stages often place different limitations on them in terms of the number of boxes they can generate. So, it’s not simply a case of one having to follow the other and there’s lots of clever instances where you have to help each other out in order to progress.
The co-op puzzles are notably easier than most of the others, probably to ensure they can be played by novices, but since the controls fit very well onto a single Joy-Con it’s all a great deal of fun and very social. There are more difficult challenge levels to unlock though, as well as a range of costumes and other virtual knick-knacks, using in-game currency earned by competing stages more efficiently or by collecting special crowns hidden in each level.
Considering the low asking price, the value for money is excellent, especially as there’s also a third unlockable mode where you play as Qudy the rectangle. He’s not as versatile as the other two characters but the different-sized boxes he makes, depending on whether he turns himself sideways or not, create some interestingly-different challenges.
The only real flaw with the game is that some of the extra features introduced in Bye-Bye BoxBoy, most notably the different types of boxes, including rockets and teleporters, have been removed. Presumably the concern was that they made things too complicated, but you’d think they could have been left in for the harder stages. But unless they’re lurking in some unlockable we haven’t uncovered they’re not.
The co-op mode and other new features more than justify the new sequel though and if the low price isn’t incentive enough there’s also a free demo to get the measure of the game. Although the graphics are slightly more complex, and colourful, than on the 3DS the move to the Switch hasn’t changed Qbby too much and if he’s decided he’s not ready for retirement yet we’re happy to have him back.
BoxBoy! + BoxGirl!
In Short: A welcome comeback for Nintendo’s most minimalist mascot, that justifies itself with an extremely entertaining co-op mode.
Pros: Elegantly simple, if bizarre, set-up is very easy to pick up and consistently inventive. Charming presentation and great value for money.
Cons: Removing the more complex box variants from the previous game is a shame. With so many levels some can seem very samey.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Price: £8.99Publisher: NintendoDeveloper: HAL Laboratory, Inc.Release Date: 26th April 2019Age Rating: 3