The 3DS eShop has gradually become host to a growing library of smaller, download-only games that help balance some of the larger retail releases. Those bigger games may help sell systems, but it's titles like Boxboy!, developed by HAL Laboratories (of Kirby fame), that give 3DS owners plenty to do in-between tentpole releases.
Boxboy! stars Qbby, a very simply-drawn character—he's essentially a box with a face and legs—who must traverse 2D environments by using a unique ability to extend additional boxes from his body to create platforms, hooks, shields, and bridges. He can even, in some levels, use a series of boxes to propel himself through narrow spaces.
It's probably just easier to grasp if you watch a video.
Honestly, if that hasn't sold you on the concept, I'm not sure the rest of this article will; still, I'll do my best to persuade you to spend the $4.99 (a bargain!) on this title.
It's fantastic to see HAL Laboratories get to move away from Kirby; I love that series, but it's always fascinating to see big developers try something new. There are certainly parallels: a simple character with a unique ability that allows him to more easily navigate a series of environments could easily be a description for a Kirby title. In almost every way, though, HAL has swapped out key details: Qbby is square instead of round, he expels boxes instead of devouring enemies, there are only no environmental threats instead of enemies, and it's a black-and-white game instead of brightly-colored worlds with a hot pink hero.
True to form, though, the developers have nailed the controls. Qbby feels as good to control as Kirby ever did, and the game has the unmistakeable sheen of Nintendo polish. Despite its indie aesthetic, Boxboy! brings big-league talent to the table. This is most apparent with Qbby's signature move set: creating more boxes. Handled with a simple hold of the Y button and directional input from the D-pad, it's easy to grasp such that creating boxes becomes second nature within seconds of play. Easy options to set blocks down, toss them, or retract them let players start to get creative with puzzle solving.
And, really, it's Qbby's unusual ability to create boxes that defines this game (as if the title hadn't already given that away). What starts out as a simple way to help him reach higher ledges quickly transforms into a vehicle for extremely clever puzzles. Not all the levels, especially at first, are overly-challenging, but the game does that most wonderful thing in game design: it teaches you to continually improve yourself. By stretching your comfort level bit by bit, the game expands your horizon of what is possible and manages to provide that singular sense of puzzle-solving satisfaction that makes games like Braid and Portal so appealing.
The best way that it does it that is through the use of of collectible crowns in levels that aren't required to progress but quickly become an obsession.
Trying to collect some of these crowns has left me stumped for 5 minutes. 10 minutes. Overnight. But, when you finally manage to secure one that seemed impossible, it's oh-so-satisfying.
On top of all the puzzles in the main game, there are time and score-based challenges to unlock, new costumes to buy, and an unlockable soundtrack. These are great additions, particularly the challenge mode, which has some incredibly difficult scenarios (putting to bed any concerns that HAL Laboratories lacked the chops could only develop easy platformers like Kirby).
Look, this game is a bargain at only five bucks, and it's not even a big download (for those of you with smaller SD cards). Just go download it. You won't regret it!