Saturday, May 4, 2019

Boxboy! + Boxgirl! Review

This is no Tetris platformer! Boxboy! + Boxgirl! is an all-new adventure in the puzzle platformer series from HAL Laboratory, creators of such games as Adventures of Lolo, Kabuki Quantum Fighter, the Kirby series, and the first 2 Super Smash Bros games. It features 270 stages across 3 campaigns, 3 playable characters, and for the first time in the series, co-op multiplayer. Boxboy! + Boxgirl! is available now on the Nintendo Switch eShop for $10.

I've never played more than the demo of the 3DS games, but apparently there's some kind of continuation of the story from those games. I'm pretty sure this is all a big joke, though. In Boxboy! + Boxgirl!, the Box family; Qbby, Qucy, and Qudy, are trying to save their cube planet from a huge asteroid headed straight towards it by solving its puzzle obstacle courses. Or something like that. There is no dialogue or narration in the cutscenes, so a lot is left up to your imagination. It's goofy, weird, and sort of dark in a way.

The Boxboy series reminds me of games like Portal, Donkey Kong (GB), and Splatoon’s single player campaigns. It’s a platformer, but it's more about solving puzzles than it is about Mario-like platforming. Qbby's running and jumping skills are very limited. You can't run very fast, you can only jump as high as one box, and if you time your jump perfectly, you might be able to jump across a two space gap. Qbby is far from the athlete Mario is.

The main ability you use to do everything in the game is the power to create boxes. You can spawn boxes from yourself in 3 directions around you, and then spawn more boxes out of those boxes in one of three other directions. You can also delete boxes you've set down with the X button if you need to. There is no limit to how many boxes you can make per stage, but each stage has a preset limit to how many boxes you can make at a time, and you can only have one group of boxes per player out in a stage at any time. You can't make a box, leave it on top of a switch, and then make another box to use as a platform, for example. The first box would just disappear as soon as you start making another box. You can make a group of boxes wide enough to put on top of a switch and be used as a platform at the same time, though. The amount of boxes you can make at a time varies from 2 to 9 depending on the stage and character you're playing as.

The rest of your base abilities all revolve around what you can do with boxes. You can use boxes as platforms, make stairs and bridges out of them, push them around, use them as shields (or umbrellas), carry them, and even throw them if you build them over your head. You can’t pick boxes up after you’ve set them down, though. Even more abilities and obstacle types are introduced as you play through each character’s campaigns.

There's 3 campaigns in the game, each split up into worlds with 5 to 8 stages in them. The single player campaign is called “A Tale for One”, and it has 16 worlds and 112 stages, making it the biggest campaign of the 3. In A Tale for One, you're introduced to 3 new abilities and a bunch of obstacle types that require you to use your boxes in different ways. You start with simple switches you have to hold down to open doors and electric rays you have to block. Then after every few worlds you beat, you unlock a new ability which you'll use in different way to deal with the new obstacles in the following worlds.

The first ability you unlock is the “up hook”. This ability allows you to use your boxes like a sort of grappling hook. You can make an upside-down L shape over your head, jump and grab onto a ledge with your boxes, and then pull yourself up to where the last box in the line landed, for example. You can also use this ability to dig through the dirt patch obstacle like a worm, and to get to places you wouldn't be able to get to by simply jumping, like maybe a 1 space opening on the side of a wall.

Other abilities include the hop, slide, and slam. The hop allows you to use box groups you haven't let go of as a sort of pogo stick. You can use this to hop on top of spikes or through electricity without dying. The slide allows you to push and slide boxes over ground and through the air. You can use this to throw boxes across large gaps or through electrictricity. The slam is basically a butt stomp, like Mario and Wario's. You can use the slam to drive boxes into the ground. This can be used to push underground switches, or maybe place a platform on the side of a wall over a pit.

There's a lot of clever ways to use your boxes, but I feel like the different obstacle types aren't mixed in with each other enough. Each world has its own gimmick, and all the stages in them only use a few of the same obstacle types. You don't see a lot of the gravity fields outside of world 14, for example. The last world is the only one that really mixes things up. There aren't a lot of obstacles that require much timing either. I feel like this game spends a lot of time introducing new ideas that it only uses a few times. A Tale for One ends up feeling a bit like the first half of a game that is not followed up on in the other campaigns. It ends just as it’s getting really challenging, too.

The co-op campaign is called “A Tale for Two”, and it has 11 worlds and 73 stages. You can play this either in co-op or in single player, and it's perfectly playable either way. If you play it by yourself, you switch between Qbby and Qucy by pressing ZL or ZR. This one is all about working as a team. You have to coordinate with the other player to put down the boxes you need in order to create the shapes or structures required. Both players have to reach the goal at the end, so no one can be left behind. You can carry each other, push each other, boost each other up with your boxes, combine each other's box structures, and even launch each other across pits by riding on each other's box slide. Some stages have different box limits for each character, and character specific switches, so you have to put some real thought into who does what, and in what order. This campaign was the easiest of the 3 for me, but I think it might have been the most fun. I really liked how I had to think about the order in which I did things, and how it had more puzzles that required good timing.

After beating A Tale for One, you unlock “A Tall Tale”, Qudy's campaign. Qudy kind of looks like a domino. He's as tall as 2 of Qbby's boxes, and so are the boxes he makes. That means he needs more spaces than Qbby to be able to make a single box by default. He also can't fit through some areas while walking upright, but thankfully, he can bend over by pressing ZL or ZR. This totally changes the game. Since he can bend over, Qudy has 2 box types; tall boxes and wide boxes. You can't mix and match tall and wide boxes, so choosing which box style to use adds even more complexity to the puzzles. Tall boxes are too tall for Qudy to jump on or use as stairs, since he can't jump any higher than Qbby, but since they are taller, they come in handy for reaching high platforms with the box hop or hitting switches that would normally require 2 boxes with just 1 box. And since his boxes are as wide as 2 boxes when bending over, he can make really long platforms. A Tall Tale starts off just as easy as the other campaigns, but ramps up more quickly, and ends up being the hardest of the 3. It's also the shortest of the 3, with 13 worlds and 69 stages.

Each stage has a few achievements, or as the game calls them, “targets”. There's crowns to collect in each stage, and 3 targets for using fewer boxes. You can also go for faster times to get better ranks. The better you do in each stage, the more in-game currency you get to buy stuff at the store with. You can buy Boxboy comics, balloon challenge stages, music, assist items, and clothing items. There's sunglasses, mustaches, hats, hairdos, and all kinds of goofy stuff, like zombie and Yoshi egg skins. The comics are not really funny, but they're cute. The assist items give you powers like extra boxes, increased speed, and increased jump height. I didn't use any items because this is a puzzle game, and I feel like cheating would be cheating myself out of the fun of the game, but they're there if you're really stuck on a stage, or just want to mess around. The balloon challenges are campaign specific stages in which you have to pop all the balloons within a time limit and with preset abilities. I didn't get too into these because they're not like the regular stages and they take your abilities away, but they're there if the other 254 stages left you wanting more.

This game has a cute style, but frankly, all the black and white gets a bit boring to look at after a while. There are some light colors in the backgrounds, but they're not enough to spice the look of the game up. This game does not run very well either. It was made on the Unity engine, and like most Unity games on Switch, there are very noticeable frame pacing and framerate issues. It seems like the problems either get worse in the later stages or just get worse the longer you keep the game running, too. Thankfully, these problems don't affect gameplay too much, since this is such a slow paced game.

I thought the music was pretty good. It was composed by Jun Ishikawa and Hirokazu Ando, who have worked on a ton of Kirby games and the other Boxboy games. It's very relaxing and trippy, and fits the game really well. Some of the instrumentation in the songs reminded me of Pikmin, Animal Crossing, and strangely enough, PS1 era SquareSoft games, like Chrono Cross. I also got a kick out of the sound effects. Especially the medal sound, which sounds kind of like someone washing dishes in a kitchen sink.

If you like puzzle games like Portal and Donkey Kong for Game Boy, you can't go wrong with Boxboy! + Boxgirl!. It has a ton of content for $10. You can certainly do worse for $10 on the Switch eShop.