Sometimes one box just isn’t enough. In a move that surely signals an epic turn for the BGU, the latest entry in HAL Laboratory’s adorable puzzle franchise has assembled a team of angular avengers to challenge its devious devices and stop an ambiguous dark blob from taking over their sunny, square-shaped world. BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! is clearly the culmination of an adventure years in the making, one in which all the box-making skills that Qbby and his pals have mastered will finally be put to the ultimate test. It’s a graceful transition to the bigger small screen that may not bend the brains of series veterans, but mixes a healthy amount of classic concepts with plenty of new ideas, all while showcasing that minimalist charm, focused gameplay, and clever construction that has made the previous three entries so entertaining.
Those already familiar with the BOXBOY! franchise will be immediately at home with the box-cloning basics, which allow Qbby, Qucy, and the comparably lanky Qudy to essentially clone lifeless versions of themselves in order to overcome the many obstacles placed in their path. This superpower ability produces chains of boxes that can used as bridges to cross bottomless pits, steps or hooks to scale vertical walls, and poking sticks to flip far-off colored switches, among many other uses. Each world is built around navigating one particular idea — such as avoiding electric laser beams or tunneling through dirt — which is increasingly expanded upon and twisted with each successive stage within. Experienced players will be able to breeze through early levels out of sheer reflex, but BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! is nicely kind to newcomers, easing them into abilities and teaching necessary tactics quite smoothly.
However, getting through these levels is only half the fun; the true challenge in BOXBOY! games is in grabbing all the collectibles in the process. BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! maintains the traditions of placing crowns in devilish locations around each stage, but unlike previous entries, this time they aren’t tied to a limit on the number of boxes used. Instead, those have become separate quests, awarding anywhere from one to three medals depending on how stingy the player is. While this change does make things more accessible (the dejection from the crown shattering when that limit was surpassed is no longer a factor), it also has the effect of removing that sometimes tall order of having to run through the entire stage at maximum efficiency.
In addition, some of the set limits feel a little too generous. Players who are well-versed in some of the more advanced tactics will make a joke out of besting certain goals (one run saw me accomplishing with eleven boxes what had a three-medal limit of thirty-three). That doesn’t make the actual gameplay any less fun, and those who have beat the campaign can still go for top grades, but there is some diminishment in satisfaction upon completing a great run, only to realize that it didn’t have to be that great. To be fair, however, new players will surely be scratching their heads until those untaught tactics dawn upon them, and there is a slightly more open-ended feel to how puzzles can be solved that encourages creativity rather than simply adhering to standard moves.
Despite a bit of that edge having been polished off, BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! still contains an incredible amount of nimble variety and content in its puzzle-platforming — easily enough to keep even seasoned players engaged for many hours. Qbby’s adventure alone has enough levels for an entire game, but add to that a co-op campaign that has Qbby and Qucy working together, as well as a separate quest for Qudy that picks up where Qbby’s story leaves off, and this entry feels like the BOXBOY! gift that keeps on giving. And where the main mode might feel a little too familiar at times, the latter two additions play with expectations in ways that make a considerable chunk of the game still feel fresh.
The inclusion of multiplayer might seem like a mere family-friendly option at first, but it soon becomes apparent that HAL has done a nice job tailoring these separate puzzles to the extra maneuverability that comes with having two independent box makers. Players will have to think hard about how best to coordinate, especially when levels have the characters running along at different heights or sides of a pit, or when Qbby and Qucy have different limits on the number of boxes they can create. This mode is of course enjoyable with a friend, but it could be argued that there is even more challenge and fun going it solo (alternating between characters with a push of a button). It was surprising just how subtly these wrinkles could change one’s approach, and the newness is invigorating after the fun-but-standard main campaign.
Qudy, meanwhile, almost feels like a revelation. His ability to create either tall or long boxes depending on which way he is rotated sets up entirely new complications for his unique puzzles. Considerations must be made for low doorways, taller-than-normal walls, or long gaps, and counting spaces becomes much more common as the difficulty intensifies. Again, it’s wonderful to note what a difference his mechanics make to the same tried-and-true concepts that the player thinks BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! has already thoroughly explored. While there are a few new upgrades, like the ability to jump while hanging from a box stack or pound boxes into the ground, this sequel is comparably tame when it comes to powerups that really stir the pot. Qudy fits that bill quite well, however, and a solo spinoff starring this beanpole would not be unwelcome.
Still, the great strength of BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! lies is in the collaborative effort. This is the biggest adventure yet for the series — a culmination of everything that has been learned in the past, and a peek at what could lie ahead for the franchise’s future.