BOXBOY! might contain the most delight-per-minute of any game I’ve played this year. As I zoom through its myriad of stages, I’m always seeing something new, puzzling out new solutions to its minimalist puzzles, and smiling a lot. BOXBOY! really, really wants you to smile.
HAL Laboratory has, through some dark magic, stripped the essence of Kirby‘s joy into a tiny 3DS puzzle game about boxes. Even through the black and white visuals and square, near-featureless hero, the charm of BOXBOY! is bursting through the seams. Nintendo’s best developers know how to do a lot with a little, and this is about as little as it gets. Plus the main character’s name is Qbby, which is like Kirby but cubes. So now you have to play it.
You’re a boy who is a box, who can make boxes come out from any side of him to use as objects. Say, you’re standing next to a ledge that’s too high. Create a box, toss it by the ledge, and then jump up. At first, it may seem like such a limited ability will quickly run out of steam. Not even close. Like Portal and Braid before it, you’re tasked with an immense number of challenges wrapped around one relatively simple idea.
14 worlds and 3 hours in, I still can’t believe how much mileage they’re getting. While your abilities don’t change, the environments and stage mechanisms do. You’ll puzzle out areas with conveyor belts, cranes, magic blocks, and more. Each stage lasts between 30 seconds or a minute, and there are DOZENS of stages. It’s nigh impossible to stop yourself from jumping into the next one when you’re finished. Solutions do become more complex over time (forcing me to make use of the hint feature more than once!), but nothing feels insurmountable. Rooms are tiny and confined, so the answer is always just one correct move away. While the challenges may not wrack your brain in the same vein as The Talos Principal or Antichamber, they’re all masterfully short, sweet, and made to keep you wanting more.
BOXBOY! is a relatively easy game, at least for the three hours I’ve played. You’re forced to think about clever ways to complete each level, but never to an annoying degree. There are also optional collectibles in every level, and figuring out how to reach them is essential in seeing how smart the puzzle design really is. Each puzzle feels satisfying, and since they’re all so short, you can immediately solve another one as soon as you’re done. And if you make even a slight mistake, there’s an immediate restart button that places you right before you messed up. BOXBOY!, like a crossword puzzle, excels because it’s an always reliable way to stretch your brain, every solution feels like a well-earned victory, and the answers are always on the tip of your tongue. Except in BOXBOY!, when you finish a puzzle he’ll do a little dance on his tiny legs, and you get points to buy sweet sunglasses, wigs, and tougher challenges. Take that, crosswords.
In typical HAL fashion, the music is great, there’s plenty of bonus content to find, and there’s way more game here than you’d expect. For $5, I can’t recommend BOXBOY! enough. It’s Nintendo’s effortless design concentrated into a game that’s as minimal as they’ve ever done. Though it may seem like a small, skippable experiment, BOXBOY! is perfect, and is one of the best puzzle games you’ll play this year or any other.