Boxboy / Boxboxboy

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

Games by HAL Laboratory for 3DS, originally released in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Boxboy and Boxboxboy – which are technically named BOXBOY! and BOXBOXBOY! – are a pair of puzzle platformers starring a little square fellow named Qbby. There’s not much to the little guy, as he is made up of a rounded box with two legs and two eyes and nothing else, although he does exude a bit of personality in his smooth movements and cute idle animations. The games are presented with similarly minimal visuals consisting of simple black and white designs with occasional grey highlights in the original game, and with the addition of bits of green in the sequel.

There’s also not much to the story, which involves the player unlocking a series of doors across a largely featureless corridor and overcoming the challenges within, which clears paths that allow him to reach the next set of doors. At certain points, the player interacts with some mysterious machinery that triggers wordless cutscenes, revealing a square planet being restored and the occasional rescue of one of Qbby’s friends.

As a platforming hero, Qbby is not terribly capable, with a 1x jump that allows him to mount short platforms and make small leaps across openings. However, Qbby’s primary skill is his ability to create duplicate boxes that extend outward from his body. These interconnected boxes may then be tossed to use as stair steps, ridden across conveyor belts, used to activate switches, and even arranged to protect Qbby from dangers like spikes and electricity, and these boxes are the basis for all of the game's puzzles.

By squatting down, the player can extend blocks to the left, right, or straight up in order to create a variety of shapes. When the player lets off the button, Qbby stands up with the blocks sticking to him. These blocks can then be tossed a short distance away or dropped on the spot, acting as platforms that the player can stand on or push around the environment.

In the original game, the player is limited to a single set of blocks (except in the final two bonus levels), whereas the sequel allows two sets of blocks to be placed, adding some complexity to the puzzles. Each world has a set of levels based around a specific type of obstacle, with a final world culminating in a series of challenges that require the player to use everything he has learned to that point. Once the final world is completed, new and more challenging bonus worlds appear, offering additional challenges to skilled players.

The player also earns currency by completing levels, with bonus currency awarded for collecting crowns. Every level has at least one crown, and some have two. These are usually placed slightly off the beaten path and occasionally require some additional strategy on the part of the player in order to reach them, but they are not required to complete the game. The trick with collecting crowns is that you’re limited to the number of boxes you can use before they disappear, although most levels allow plenty of room for mistakes.

Currency may be used in the shop to purchase costumes that are slowly unlocked as progress is made, offering some cute cosmetic changes to the otherwise simple player character, although there is bunny costume that changes the player’s abilities (more on this in a bit). Additional purchasable items include music tracks, tip books, time- and score-based challenge levels, and comic strips, although not all of these are available in both games, as outlined below.

In Boxboy, the game begins with a series of tutorial levels explaining the basic functions of creating blocks and using them as platforms, as well as more advanced techniques, such as constructing a hook and using it to grab a high ledge to pull yourself up. Throughout the game, the player continues to apply new techniques, such as building L-shaped shields and U-shaped “afros” to protect himself from danger, snake-like configurations for reaching out-of-the-way switches, and L-shaped extensions that let him push himself upward on a stack of blocks.

Each level begins by displaying the maximum number of boxes that can be created in a single chain, as well as the total number of boxes allowed to be placed within a level before the bonus crowns disappear. Despite these restrictions, the game is very forgiving about allowing the player to try multiple solutions, and death only means resetting the puzzle currently onscreen, rather than restarting the entire level.

While it is possible for the player to get stuck and create an unwinnable situation, he is able to immediately revert back to the last checkpoint to try again. Also, a button is dedicated to erasing placed blocks, so the player can generally undo any mistakes he has made, and this technique is used in a couple of places to reset pressed switches.

Outside of dedicated challenge levels, there is no timer, so players are free to take as long as they like to work out puzzle solutions. For players who get truly stuck, they can spend a Play Coin to be shown the solution to the current puzzle. In addition, while levels within a world must be completed in order, several new worlds are often opened at once, allowing players to skip around a bit, and players are free to return to any previously-visited levels to collect crowns they missed on their first attempt.

Each world introduces a new type of challenge and then tasks the player with completing a set of levels based on it. For the most part, challenges aren’t cumulative, so each world has a dedicated focus rather than building upon the previous obstacles, and most levels are quite short. This design makes the start of each world very easy, with a shallow rise in difficulty across the levels, which drops off again at the start of the next world. As such, the overall difficulty of the game is quite low, at least until the player reaches the final world and the bonus worlds beyond it.

Themed areas include levels dedicated to creating long snakes to work yourself between spikes and squeeze into narrow passages. Whenever a portion of your box stack is resting on a solid surface, you can retract yourself to that point, retaining a rigid line that protects you from jutting spikes. In these levels, you also learn that you can create a row of boxes against a wall and push yourself out over a ledge or up into the air. You can even push yourself off a ledge and then extend a block while falling to catch yourself in midair.

Some worlds have moving blocks and conveyor belts – and spiked conveyor belts – tasking players with completing puzzle solutions with the proper timing, and finding ways to create a properly-shaped block so that it can move through a short obstacle course and press a distant switch. There are two types of switches: some can be pressed once to open the way forward, but others must be held down, creating additional challenges since only one set of blocks can be in play at a time.

Some levels have claws that extend down from the ceiling to pick you up (or a stack of blocks) and drop you off elsewhere in the level… potentially into danger if you don’t have the right block configuration ready to go. Some levels feature positive and negative blocks that must be connected with properly shaped block stacks in order to complete a circuit. Some levels have fog that you can fall down through and wrap back around to the ceiling, adding some verticality to the challenges.

Then you have sticky patches that prevent you from moving, challenges where you have to guide a walking spike monster safely to a trigger, levels where you have to create shields to block waves of electricity, sections where you have to clear rows of blocks Tetris-style so you can drop down to lower tiers, and gravity fields that let you and your blocks float in different directions.

Experienced puzzle-platforming players should have little difficulty reaching the final level, but there are loads of bonus levels and unlockable challenges to put skilled players to the test. These include dozens of bonus levels following the game’s ending which mix-and-match elements from previous levels and introduce some entirely new gameplay elements, such as falling blocks and the ability to create two separate stacks of blocks… a feature that would go on to be the basis for the game’s sequel.

Players can also use collected currency to unlock challenge levels which appear with an inverted white-on-black color scheme. These include time-based challenges that require players to move quickly through a series of levels. Unlike standard levels, these must all be competed in succession with no checkpoints in between. In addition, there are clocks tucked around these levels that remove a few seconds from the timer; players must collect them in order to beat the par time and complete the challenge, and there is very little room for error.

Score-based levels challenge the player with grabbing a bunch of doodads spread around the level under a 60-second time limit. These levels are often open in design, allowing players to move in multiple directions and tackle things how they like. There’s even a Kirby-themed level, referencing the developer’s lovable creampuff and star of one of their most recognized franchises: the Kirby series.

One of the most expensive items in the shop is the bunny costume, and it doesn’t become available until nearly the end of the game. However, it does grant the player the ability to perform a 2x jump, making it quite easy to return to previous levels and grab missed crowns. This costume allows players to bypass obstacles that once required careful box placement, so it removes a considerable amount of the challenge. Its presence toward the end of the game prevents players from exploiting these abilities on easier levels; however, all purchased costumes from the original game carry over into the sequel, which means that players can begin the next game with the bunny costume available from the start.

Boxboxboy picks up immediately after the events of the first game, although the narrative remains quite minimal. The new game offers a few shades of green in the cutscenes, as well as green highlights on stacks of blocks. Once again, Qbby enters a set of tutorial levels that explain the basic functions of box creation and environmental navigation, but this time he is able to place two sets of blocks at a time.

Puzzle designs are very similar, with many being nearly indistinguishable from those found in the original game. However, the player no longer has access to extremely long block chains… In the original game, it was not uncommon for players to enter levels with the ability to create a 5-block chain. In the sequel, however, the player can generally only create pairs of 2- or 3-block chains.

This simple change adds an additional layer of complexity, making this game somewhat more challenging than the original. But here again, each world consists of a set of levels themed around a specific obstacle, so the start of each world acts as a tutorial, with a shallow increase in difficulty until the world ends, followed by another tutorial. That said, there are a handful of mind-bending puzzles toward the end of the game that challenge you to come up with some creative solutions, especially if you hope to grab all of the crowns.

With a limited number of blocks, it’s more difficult to create basic constructions like stairs and hooks, as the player now has to create a short platform and leave himself enough room mount it and create a second. It’s also somewhat easier to confound yourself, as connecting two rows of boxes causes them to stick together, which is often not a desired outcome, causing you to waste moves as you experiment with puzzle solutions. But the game offers the same checkpoint system, allowing players to immediately reset any failed puzzle.

In the original game, sets of boxes were immediately eliminated when the player initiated another set. Here, the player may place a single set of blocks, then create another, and the first set will disappear when he begins a third. However, there are exceptions to this…

The player can create a set of blocks, then create a hook-shaped set to grab a ledge and reel himself in, allowing him to create yet another set without eliminating the first. This technique is called upon often in later levels where the player must lay down blocks to protect himself from spikes and spike-lined conveyor belts, while creating a second set of blocks to navigate the environment. Players can manually erase any blocks that are extending from Qbby's body, and pressing the same button without any connected blocks causes all of them to disappear.

Most of the obstacles are repeats from the original game, but an important distinction comes in the form of double-ended electricity emitters. In the first game, electricity originated from a single source, requiring players to create shields to block themselves from danger. Now, it’s possible for electricity to originate from both sides, requiring players to build more elaborate shields, which may mean dropping a block and pushing it along the floor while creating an L-shaped hat to protect Qbby from above. Or, when electricity is coming from the sides, players may need to construct two sets of walls or a U-shaped basket to surround Qbby with protection.

An increase in the use of conveyor belts and gravity lines sets up more time-based challenges where the player must ride blocks through a set of obstacles, or create blocks of specified shapes and use them to activate distant switches. More difficult too are levels where the player must guide black spiked creatures through the environment, as the player’s short block stacks often require him to drop a set of blocks and then use a second set of blocks to prop up the first. In addition, there are now several puzzles that combine these elements with fog, allowing players, blocks, and spiked creatures to wrap around from the floor to the ceiling.

As before, the player earns currency by completing levels, with bonuses offered for collecting each of the crowns within. The player may spend this money on music tracks, new costumes (and free versions of costumes purchased in the original game), and comic strips. Challenge levels are no longer available for purchase but rather unlock automatically as the player makes progress in the main game. These once again feature an inverted color scheme, and the player is required to complete sets of levels using specific costumes.

The original game features 17 worlds with around seven levels in each, as well as five bonus worlds that open upon completing the game. The sequel offers 11 worlds with seven or eight levels in each, and also has five new post-game bonus worlds. Completing the bonus worlds is entirely optional, but the player may earn additional crowns and currency by doing so, as well some new costumes.

Boxboy and Boxboxboy were developed by HAL Laboratory (a.k.a. HAL Labs), the studio best known as the creator of the Kirby series, as well as several other well regarded series, including Mother (Earthbound), Super Smash Bros., and the Adventures of Lolo, among numerous other games. The studio was founded in 1980 and is based on Japan, and has developed games almost exclusively for Nintendo systems.

The game was published by Nintendo.