BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! (Switch eShop) Review
I’m often surprised at the depth that talented developers are able to extract out of a seemingly simple concept. Now in its fourth iteration, BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! arrives on the Switch, bringing along its charming monochromatic puzzling and clever abilities to deliver a satisfying puzzle-platformer packed to the brim with content and ideas.
The basic premise of the game is simple. You play as Qbby, a plain white box with tiny eyes and legs that has been gifted with the ability to create additional boxes that can be placed throughout each of the game’s 270 levels. You will use these boxes to build steps, hold down switches, propel yourself off walls and for all manner of other uses as you work through each level. The number of boxes you can summon at a time will change from level to level, but the amount given is always finely tuned to provide a sublime balance of challenge and accessibility.
Each world of five to eight levels is built around a newly introduced environmental obstacle. You are eased in with simple danger hazards like electric shock squares and laser beams, but as you progress you will have to deal with moving platforms, dirt walls you can dig through, shifting gravity, teleportation portals and much more. These new concepts are introduced at a steady pace, so the puzzles continuously feel fresh and challenging.
Another layer added on top of the core mechanics is the bevvy of special abilities you will acquire throughout the adventure, which range in usefulness from highly situational to essential for almost every level. The essentials include being able to hook onto platforms with an overhanging block to pull yourself up to an otherwise unreachable ledge, and being able to jump across hazards attached to a pillar of blocks. Other abilities such as being able to stomp blocks through platforms or throw your square creations are used less frequently but are still required enough to have you constantly assessing how you can use your varied toolset to reach the goal.
After several hours of play, you begin to learn advanced block formations that can help in a variety of situations and how to best utilise the block creation process to place yourself in the best position. The puzzles rarely venture into frustration-inducing difficulty, but figuring out each level is still immensely satisfying. If you do happen to get stuck, a generous hint system will show you the simplest way to move onto the next part of the level, but they won’t offer any help for where the real challenge of this game lies – the medal challenges.
Each level has two medal challenges offering bonus objectives. The first of these is collecting all crowns placed throughout the environment. These are typically in hard to reach places that will require some extra mental and box-positioning gymnastics to get to and are rarely able to be nabbed as part of the standard solution to each puzzle. The other is to complete the level using only a limited number of boxes. This forces you to truly consider whether every box you generate is really necessary, and will push you to analyse the most efficient means of navigating platforms and nullifying hazards. These challenges are the heart of the experience, and make for some incredibly satisfying “a-ha!” moments like those found in the best puzzle games.
Once Qbby’s quest has been conquered, you will have only scratched the surface of what’s on offer. As the name implies, a second mode has the option to bring along a Box-Girl named Qucy for a suite of entirely new co-op levels, and this is where the game truly shines. Each level is designed to make you work together, helping each other progress and opening pathways inaccessible by the other. Some stages even see each character having a different number of boxes available, pushing you to think your movements through before you act.
You need to work as a team to proceed, and the joy of solving a tricky puzzle is doubled when you crack it piece by piece with a friend. It also adds a new layer of strategy to existing abilities. One of my favourite moments involved creating a platform, having my friend hop on and throwing them across a huge chasm where they solved a puzzle that allowed me to cross. Although you can choose to play solo by swapping back and forwards between Qbby and Qucy, playing cooperatively is definitely the best way to play.
The third and final mode gives you control of Qudy, a rectangular box that can turn vertical or horizontal. You can create a series of blocks from either position, essentially doubling the number of options you’ll need to contemplate to find the correct solution. This mode is easily the most challenging and had me scratching my head for quite some time on more than one occasion.
Completing levels across all three campaigns will net you with medals you can spend at the shop. Here you can splash out on a variety of clothing and accessories for your four-sided friends, such as wigs, glasses, headsets, kimonos, cat whiskers and plenty more. These help to add a bit of flavour and interest to the otherwise somewhat simple aesthetic. The mostly bland black and white colour scheme can grow a little tiresome, but bursts of colour throughout the campaigns and some of the comical costumes do help to liven things up.
You can also spend your cash on balloon-popping mini-games, small comic strips and purchasing music tracks to listen to at any time. The soundtrack is bright and chirpy with a hint of futuristic elements, but the limited number of songs on offer in the games means you’ll hear them more than enough throughout your play-through without wanting to go out of your way to buy them. Lastly, you can also purchase consumable power-ups such as invincibility, increased jump height or extra blocks to help you if really get stuck on a particular level.
BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! is a satisfying puzzle adventure with plenty of challenging levels to keep you coming back. The variety of power-ups and unique hazards result in a game that stays fresh across the course of its three main modes. The addition of co-op is extremely welcome, and the tricky bonus objectives highlight the smart puzzle design on offer. If you enjoy pick up and play puzzle games, this is a great addition to your Switch library.
Rating: 4 out of 5
+ Clever puzzle design
+ Loads of levels
+ Even better with a friend
- Visuals and music can grow tiresome