BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! is the latest in box-themed adventures from HAL Laboratory, releasing April 26th, 2019. Given that this was my first time playing a BOXBOY game, and given this is the series’ Switch debut, I wasn’t too sure what to expect, other than at least one box. What I got was way more than one box, and a delightful, side-scrolling puzzle platformer that, despite its consistently difficult stages, I couldn’t put down.
That difficulty shouldn’t scare you away, though. This game gets hard—like really hard—but I never got frustrated. Between the rewards and assist items you can obtain, BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! never left me feeling like I didn’t have enough to keep going.
Whether playing as Qbby, the hero of past BOXBOY games, or the newly introduced BOXGIRL, Qucy, you wield the power to create boxes. In each of the game’s 270+ stages, you need to configure your boxtensions (I’m sorry) in different shapes, allowing you to maneuver around various obstacles, such as spikes, lasers, springs, and shock traps as you try to safely reach the end.. To prevent you from brute-forcing your way through, each stage puts a limit on the amount of boxes you can make at one time , and offers you additional rewards for collecting the crowns located throughout the level or for completing the level under an even stricter number of boxes. As you move from world to world, you meet other characters who imbue you with their powers, giving you new abilities you can use to navigate each stage.
The main story mode, “A Tale for One,” includes a light, but still enjoyable narrative that wordlessly tells a story of an alien invasion and your heroic attempts to save those put in harms way… but the focus, of course, is the boxes. You progress through a series of Worlds, each of which is comprised by a handful of stages featuring similar mechanical themes. The world called “Dodging Lasers,”for instance, teaches you how to use your boxes to protect yourself from the fatal lasers scattered around the level—a skill you’ll need to know later in the game. Beat all of the stages, and you beat the world. Beat all of the available worlds, and a new world appears for you to tackle.
At first, I was whizzing through every stage, collecting every crown, and using the smallest number of boxes to do so. I thought this game was going to be a breeze. By World 4, I was thrown for a loop. At first, I started using too many boxes. “So what,” I said. “I can’t be contained. My boxes know no bounds.” Then, I felt true pain: the last level of World 4. The end of the level was in sight. Below me, a pit of spikes. Floating above a shock trap was the last crown of the level. But no matter how long I stared at it, I couldn’t figure out how to grab it without killing myself in the process. Disappointed, I proceeded to the door without completing my bonus objective. But I was not defeated.
I continued. I played world after world, using too many boxes, missing crowns, and yet, I never became bothered enough to stop playing. The thing about BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! Is that each level is relatively short. If you happen to die to some environmental hazard, you can always restart from the closest checkpoint—which so far, have been very conveniently placed. There were only a couple times that I felt like the checkpoint placed me just a step too far forward or backward than I would have liked. The greatest difficulty of the game really lies in the extra challenges, not in the base stages themselves. Which isn’t to say they’re necessarily simple. Even when I breezed through a stage, it still felt tight and well-designed in a way that kept me satisfied.
A large part of that satisfaction relied on BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL!’s ability to keep the puzzles and abilities fresh even hours into the game. My favorite levels require you to use your string of boxes as a sort of grapple device, allowing you to pull yourself up to ledges—something about counting each box and trying to figure out the most efficient way of pulling my way from ledge to ledge made me feel like I was playing a tactics game, moving my character square by square to set them up in a prime position to attack.
This is also part of the reason I never felt discouraged by BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! The only requirement to progress through the game is just to complete each stage. Even though you get stage medals for doing so, you spend those in the shop on extras like music, short comics, and assist items, such as increasing the amount of boxes you can use on a given level, or… unlock cute outfits for your characters.
The shop has a gacha machine, which only takes target medals. Each “pull” costs 30 target medals, and out comes one of many accessories you can use to dress up either Qbby or Qucy. As of right now, I have hundreds of both types of medals waiting to be spent. I could spend them on a couple comics, or maybe even an assist item or two, but for now, I’d rather just wait until the end to get all the comics at once, and the game doesn’t feel difficult enough yet to warrant an assist item.
Because of this, I don’t really feel like I’m missing out on too much if I don’t complete every challenge. The game rewards me with enough medals to feel motivated, and the background narrative is compelling enough that I want to push through each world just to see what will happen next.
BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! also features a co-op mode (“A Tale for Two”) for the first time in the series. In this mode, you and a friend can each play as either Qbby or Qucy. Together, you both work to solve puzzles—which in my case, usually meant my boyfriend jumping on me to get ahead. We had the chance to play a couple levels together this past weekend. At first, I would rush to solve the puzzle for myself, but slowly, I started thinking of both of us, and we began to take our time planning our moves carefully so as to get us both to the finish line. Something something and our relationship was stronger for it something something.
Though I haven’t even unlocked the game’s third adventure (featuring the rectangle shaped Qudy), I’ve still really enjoyed my time playing BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! so far. Although I fully expect with each new world, a new challenge to scratch my head at, I doubt I’ll tire of my dear Qucy any time soon.