Even with the pedigree of HAL Laboratory behind it, BoxBoy! has always been one of Nintendo’s under-the-radar franchises. The minimalist puzzler has managed to delight across several consoles but still remains an underappreciated asset. Perhaps that reputation will change, though, with the arrival of BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! for the Nintendo Switch. If there was ever a breakout opportunity, this most certainly has to be it.
Taking after its predecessors, BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! is a puzzler that is only simplistic on the surface. The way it works is that at the beginning of every level, your Box-person is given a set number of boxes they can spawn. In some stages, you’re allowed as little as two, other times you’ll have at least five. These boxes can be arranged into a variety of patterns that can be used to traverse each stage. Once you take account of your box spawning limit, you can begin to piece together how to approach the level. Sometimes you’ll just need one to cross a pit of spikes, other times you’ll need to make stairs in order clear a chasm.
As you progress through each of the three campaigns, you’ll come across new mechanics to deal with. Most of the time, they are beneficial to you. The Up Hook — which lets you zip to a ledge once a box attached to you lands on it — and the ability to slap boxes away are particularly useful. Other mechanics, though, are more hazardous than helpful. Killer spikes, scorching lasers, and cumbersome switches are used to slow your trek. By the final batch of levels, you’ll need to deal with everything in the game’s arsenal, both good and bad.
Even considering all of that, though, I wouldn’t call BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! overly difficult. It calls upon you to think outside the box, yes, but never in a way that feels unfair or ridiculous. When I would eventually solve a tough section, I would often think about how I didn’t see the solution earlier. And on the off chance you do find yourself stuck for an extended period, a straightforward hint system will point you in the right direction. The game achieves an excellent balance of difficulty that makes it perfect for both fans and newcomers alike.
Despite its simplistic appearance, BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! is often anything but. HAL Laboratory is constantly pushing players to come up with new ways to complete a given level. Something that may appear to be relatively straightforward usually hides a more optimal solution. As you progress through the game and gain a better understanding of its myriad of mechanics, you’ll gain new insight into what can be done. Besides achieving personal satisfaction, there are rewards for perfectly completing each level.
If you finish a stage using only a set amount of boxes while also collecting the crowns that litter each one, you’ll unlock two sets of points, which can be used at the in-game store to purchase a variety of goods. The most important, to me anyway, were the cosmetic additions you can place on your box. Although given out at random, a vast majority of the articles of clothing you’ll unlock are worth checking out. Right now, I’m rocking a slick pompadour and mustache, but I’ve experimented with other fashions. You can also purchase comics, music pieces, and levels for a balloon popping mini-game. None of these are necessary, but they are nice bonuses.
As mentioned, BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! comes with three different campaigns. The regular solo adventure will be most familiar to fans of the series. Whether you are new to the franchise or not, this is probably the best place to start. It’s the easiest place to get accustomed to the game’s many facets. It’s also the longest of the three, with a whopping 112 puzzles for you to solve. The only downside to having such a large number of levels is that some of them can feel too similar. Despite the talent at HAL, they can’t quite make every new area a fresh experience.
The other single-player campaign revolves around Qudy, a large rectangular box, whose drastic size difference adds another new dimension to the puzzler. Perhaps due to the increased challenge this mode presents, it only becomes playable after you finish the standard solo missions. Qudy’s oblong shape makes not only makes for some of BoxBoy! + BoxGirl!’s most difficult challenges, but also some of its most creative. Qudy can move both horizontally and vertically, and any boxes you spawn come out at that angle — learning how to integrate both of these is the key to success.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we come to the star of BoxBoy! + BoxGirl!: the co-op campaign. In a first for the series, up to two players can work together in order to solve a series of puzzles. Each character is given their own set of boxes to use, and the solutions for each level often call upon both to use them together. The presence of a secondary character leads to some pretty complicated headscratchers that are really fun to break down. And if you don’t have a friend around to help, you can also just tackle it solo. There’s nothing here that can’t be handled alone, so feel free to jump in regardless.
BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! retains the same minimalist look the series has used for years. The so-called box people are as simple as can be, even with the myriad of cosmetic items at your disposal. There’s no background detail to any of the levels, as everything takes place on the same style of boxes and grids. Whether you consider that boring or not will be dependent on personal preference. Personally, I think it fits the mood of the title, but I can understand if you think it lacks personality.
BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! may not win over any new fans, but it is another solid addition to the franchise. HAL Laboratory offers up some smart tweaks and additions to the formula, while not moving too far away from what made it a success in the first place. The inclusion of both the co-op campaign, as well as the Qudy levels, adds a much-needed dose of creativity and longevity. It may not be the re-imagining fans were hoping for, but the series remains as unique and enjoyable as it always has.
This review was based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided by Nintendo.
BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! is far from a total reinvention, but the series remains as charmingly enjoyable as it always has. The addition of a fun co-op adventure is just the cherry on top of an already solid package.