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BOXBOY! (3DS) artwork

BOXBOY! (3DS) review

"Room for Squares"

There isnít much on the 3DS eShop that you canít get somewhere else, and often in a more playable form. But Box Boy, a sparse yet complex puzzle platformer created by HAL Laboratory, is exclusive to the 3DS, and a perfect fit for the machine.

Box Boyís special talent is spawning more boxes from his body, which he can then branch out in almost any direction, withdraw back into his body, drop and push around, or keep attached to himself for various uses, such as hooking onto a platform just out of reach or wedging himself into a narrow gap. From this simple skill set, Box Boy cracks off about 150 puzzles, about 20 percent of which are genuinely challenging.

A game as uncomplicated and unassuming as Box Boy doesnít need a story, but it has one anyway, a pantomimed affair in which Box Boyís box world is crumbling. If he beats enough worlds, he can plug up some of the frothing miasma preventing him from advancing and eventually turn enough giant screws to keep the world together. Early on, Box Boy saves a box girl and a taller box friend (box dad?) who accompany him but are, sadly, never playable and completely restricted to the needs of the story. Iíd have done just as well to have not had them around, but they did manage a few poignant moments between them.

In each level, Box Boy can create up to a given maximum number of equilateral protuberances at a time. If he makes new boxes, the old ones will disappear. You simply plug along, a few boxes at a time, figuring out how to traverse the terrain, until you reach the exit door. When you reach a goal, the game showers you in a handful of medals, or more if you manage to collect the crown(s) placed somewhere in the level within a prescribed box limit. Even during the apocalypse, thereís time to shop, and you can use the medals you win to buy costumes (most of which are purely cosmetic, but some later options of which give you heightened abilities) and unlock time and score trials as well as various tutorial tomes.

Each world in the main game features a new mechanic, with very little overlap between ideas. It begins with some obvious conceits like switches, moving platforms, and conveyor belts, but soon explores more interesting territory such as cranes, logic switches, sticky walls, anti-gravity, and enemy manipulation. In this part of the game, there are some good ideas, even an occasional great one. Virtually the entire main quest is risibly easy, though; even with sporadic commitment, odds are youíll blow through it in only a day or two.

Then comes the post-game, and with it, a solid boot in the nethers. While the game finally begins to realize its true potential in the bonus worlds by combining all its previous ideas with gleeful abandon, it also dispenses with anything resembling an organic difficulty curve. You are expected to step your brainstorming up several notches more or less immediately. The tougher solutions donít unduly stretch the limits of logic or reason, but a more forgiving progression would have better suited the game without dampening any of the charm.

Still, you get a lot of meat on the bone for just four dollars. After the main game, you still have time trials and a marathon mode (beat all the levels in a world in a single go, tracks your stats, grades you on the E-to-S scale) if you want to push yourself. These modes are well-employed, adding value without being mandatory for 100 percent completion. It may seem bare-bones at first, but thereís plenty to occupy your mind and reflexes in Box World.

Even in a marketplace glutted with pixel art, Box Boyís minimalist aesthetic stands out. Itís easy to speculate that the whole game would lose almost nothing in translation to the original Game Boy, but in doing so, one risks being glib, downplaying both the strength of the black/white contrast and the smoothness of the animation that give the game a cool ťlan that simply wouldnít have been possible on older hardware. The music achieves exactly the right effect, recalling the scholarly Zen of the GB!Tetris high score theme and punctuating it with the occasional early-Karoshi guitar twang or staccato piano attack. It sounds like itís being piped in from some sort of cosmic surround-sound, washing over you and helping to mitigate the frazzled nerves brought on by some late-game puzzles.

I struggle to rate this game properly on the star scale. In terms of doing what it sets out to accomplish, itís a three-star effort. Whether or not you have a yen for its particular flavor will determine if it earns the fourth star. You can see where I came down on the matter. Box Boy doesnít think too far inside or outside the box; itís a perfectly pleasant puzzle platformer, one that does most things well, a few not so much. Itís hard to feel ripped off for the price, and it points in a direction that future 3DS-exclusive content would do well to take.

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Community review by snowdragon (November 24, 2015)

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