Pub­lisher Nin­tendo De­vel­oper HAL Lab­o­ra­tory For­mat 3DS Re­lease Out now

Gun­pei Yokoi’s most fa­mous de­sign phi­los­o­phy sug­gested that games didn’t re­quire high-end tech­nol­ogy to thrive. In­deed, he posited that ideas were of­ten con­strained by ad­vanced hard­ware, since lim­i­ta­tions can give rise to cre­ative so­lu­tions. Af­ter more than five years on the mar­ket, 3DS is cer­tainly sea­soned tech­nol­ogy, and yet HAL has im­posed more strin­gent lim­i­ta­tions on it­self still, dis­re­gard­ing the por­ta­ble’s fea­ture­set to pro­duce a monochro­matic and de­fi­antly 2D plat­form-puzzler. Had

Boxboy been re­vealed as a lost Game Boy clas­sic from the early ’90s, few would have been sur­prised. Only Mi­iverse func­tion­al­ity and Play Coin hints be­tray the fact that it wasn’t de­vel­oped dur­ing Yokoi’s hey­day.

That’s no knock. This is a game that doesn’t so much think out­side the box as around it, square player char­ac­ter Qbby con­jur­ing blocks from his own body, which can be thrown or dropped to de­press switches, form stair­ways and build plat­forms. He’s limited in the num­ber of blocks he can gen­er­ate on each stage be­fore col­lectible crowns van­ish and by an in­abil­ity to start build­ing from un­der­neath his feet, though you’ll quickly dis­cover that a way around the lat­ter is to build to the left or right be­fore push­ing down to lift Qbby’s feet off the ground. Be­fore long, you’ll be rid­ing a tetro­mino, cre­at­ing a protective bar­rier, or ex­tend­ing and re­tract­ing a chain of blocks to snake through nar­row gaps, but your pow­ers never ex­tend fur­ther than that.

Again, that isn’t a prob­lem, with HAL sup­ply­ing a panoply of vari­a­tions. Each world in­tro­duces an idea, ex­plains it sim­ply and then ex­plores it to its log­i­cal ex­tent over seven stages be­fore mov­ing onto the next no­tion. At first, it’s all shut­ters, lasers and mov­ing blocks. Then you’re link­ing plus and mi­nus switches to open gates, rid­ing con­veyer belts, grap­pling to new heights and ca­jol­ing cranes into car­ry­ing you over gaps. Later, you’ll find your­self rid­ing grav­ity tracks, pass­ing through por­tals and guiding a hap­less AI ally to open the route for­ward. The de­lin­eated struc­ture en­sures you’re not sim­ply work­ing through pro­gres­sively longer, more com­plex stages, at least un­til the chal­leng­ing endgame, which forces you to re­call all you’ve learned by com­bin­ing mul­ti­ple ideas in each level.

Like the best games of its kind, Boxboy is de­cep­tively sim­ple and of­fers two lev­els of chal­lenge: you need only reach the exit to progress, but col­lect­ing all the crowns re­quires more care. Score- and time-attack modes ex­tend the longevity of a game that doesn’t need ex­trin­sic gim­mickry to com­pel you to the fin­ish. In fact, all that’s needed is lat­eral think­ing. What a shame Yokoi is no longer around to voice his ap­proval.


HAL has form in mak­ing sim­ple de­signs ap­peal­ing, and Qbby is like his near-name­sake in that re­gard: his tiny eyes wrin­kle as he strains to pro­duce a new block, while his skinny legs wig­gle adorably when he’s suspended

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