Against all odds, Nintendo and Kirby series developer HAL Laboratory’s hero has finally returned – yes, good old BoxBoy. It’s hard to blame anyone for not being familiar with BoxBoy!, which spawned a trilogy of 3DS games and even an amiibo figurine. Although the last game’s title was Bye-Bye BoxBoy!, the creators saw fit to continue the series with BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! on the Nintendo Switch, which also marks the franchise’s debut on consoles.
The game stars the square protagonist Qbby, an adorable 2D box with dot eyes and stick legs. True to the game’s name, a female box named Qucy, distinguishable by her eyelashes and striking bow, accompanies Qbby. The two inhabit a flat, mostly monochromatic world with sharp, geometric landscapes and minimalist visuals. The graphics, which haven’t changed much from the 3DS games, may feel a bit off when blown up on the TV, but I couldn’t imagine the purposefully simplistic series in any other way. The synth music is soft and cosmic-sounding, providing the perfect pensive backdrop.
In the main solo campaign, you play as either Qbby or Qucy, though both control identically. Either character can sprout blocks from their body. You can only produce a limited number at a time, but you can arrange them into connected shapes, like straight lines or Tetris-like figures. In every level, the goal is to utilize these blocks to reach the exit door. For instance, you may drop them to make steps, throw them to create bridges, or form hooks to latch onto ledges.
The carefully constructed levels are as ingenious as ever, forcing you to think outside the box and maneuver blocks across obstacles and towards switches. You also have to do some light platforming. The protagonists don’t jump high, so you must often supplement them with well-placed stepstools. Most worlds introduce a new level element or move, and each individual level is a gauntlet that both teaches you the ropes and tasks you to master what you’ve learned. Solo mode does a spectacular job of building upon its own principles and combining them for complex puzzle-platforming.
This gameplay description applies to every BoxBoy! game thus far, which may be the biggest downside, at least for series veterans. The main solo mode adds very little to the series besides more puzzles. Granted, the new moves, which include sliding blocks across wide distances and hopping by using boxes as a pogo stick, are great brain busters in execution. However, everything else is old-hat and will feel familiar to anyone who’s played the previous games. Even newcomers may grow tired as the solutions tend to repeat themselves. Moreover, several mechanics from the 3DS trilogy have not returned here, so for some, the new game could feel like a downgrade.
HAL Laboratory must have already been aware of this potential issue, which is why it included an entire second campaign, incorporating both the BoxBoy and BoxGirl in a two-player local co-op. These are not just the same solo levels repurposed for multiplayer, but rather, original levels designed for two. Each player controls either Qbby or Qucy, and both can move and create blocks at the same time. At first, this concept seems similar to the two sets of blocks idea from BoxBoxBoy!, but having two characters at once makes quite a difference. I was pleased to see the applications of transporting my partner using moving bridges and lifting them up by creating blocks under them. Some stages mix it up; for example, several levels separate players while others incorporate exclusive switches that are specific for either Qbby or Qucy. It’s disappointing that co-op mode retreads mechanics from the solo campaign, but it’s still a refreshing take on the formula that will appeal to fans of Nintendo’s creative co-op Snipperclips or the Switch’s cube-related puzzler Death Squared.
You can play the two-player mode by yourself, alternating between Qbby and Qucy with a button press. You can’t control both at once, so you’ll have to manually move them along, but it’s feasible to solo the mode given the game’s slow-paced nature. I preferred multiplayer for the camaraderie and convenience but found it natural to shift to the single-player.
There is also a third mode starring Qudy, a tall, rectangular box character. I didn’t think much of it when Nintendo first revealed it in trailers, but Qudy mode is actually a full campaign. It also ended up being a surprise favorite. Due to Qudy’s unique shape, he produces rectangular blocks that turn the puzzles on their sides, literally, as he can rotate left and right like a Tetris piece. Consequently, Qudy can form both long horizontal block bridges and tall vertical structures that even he can’t jump over. Combined with the usual BoxBoy! gimmicks, Qudy’s rectangular brain teasers revolutionize the familiar structure.
Beating all three campaigns took me about ten hours, but it can take longer depending on how you play. There are collectible crowns in every stage, strategically placed to taunt the player. An additional challenge asks you to complete a level using as few boxes as possible. You receive tiered medals depending on your achievement, and you really have to skimp on making blocks to reach the minimum. Without the challenges, the game is pretty easy, that is, until the last few devious worlds. Luckily, there is an optional hint system. By paying a medal, the game flashes the solution on the screen for you to recreate.
Medals are also currency for buying music, comics, and special booster items, which let you move faster and jump higher – in other words, cheat. There are also extra courses that task players to pop balloons within a time limit, a nice bonus in what I would consider an already packed game. Finally, there are unlockable costumes that you now randomly win from a gacha machine, an insufferable form of replay value.
BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! is a triumphant return for one of Nintendo’s underappreciated square-shaped heroes. The core campaign, albeit a solid iteration that newcomers will enjoy, plays a little too safely for BoxBoy! veterans. Thankfully, the new co-op and Qudy modes are the reinvigorating jolts this series needed, delivering clever and refreshing ideas to mix up the simple block-making formula. Hopefully, this Switch debut marks a bright future for the box family.
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!