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