BOXBOY! is Game Boy-era design and aesthetics reincarnated for Nintendo's latest handheld, picking up a few new ideas since the monochromatic minster's heyday. With plenty of polish and thoughtful puzzles to conquer, we were surprised to find ourselves so bored with it all.
Just like the retro classics, BOXBOY! makes a simple request of its players: guide Qbby, the chunky cube that could, to the exit. The game is segmented into worlds, each dedicating its handful of stages to introducing a new mechanic and then teaching players how to use it. Qbby can't jump very high, nor can he withstand much pain from the assorted lasers, spikes, and pits that punctuate his hostile environment.
What he does have going for him is his ability to summon boxes out of his side - hold down a button and Qbby can sprout chains of boxes. Sprout three in a horizontal line to build a bridge, for example, or two across and one up to build a makeshift staircase; box lines are also useful for pulling Qbby through otherwise unnavigable terrain. Each stage sets parameters for how many boxes can be summoned, as well as how many boxes can be used before the assorted collectible crowns littered about the stage disappear.
If you get stuck on a stage then you can spend one Play Coin for a hint. Mess up along the way? A quick tap of L and R will restart you from the last checkpoint. The setup is fairly standard fare, yet feels oddly constraining here; new ideas are continuously introduced, but BOXBOY! is reluctant to let players cut loose and explore the boundaries of its world in any meaningful way.
Everything feels like it's in a perpetual state of teaching. Techniques learned earlier in the game are layered into subsequent puzzles, but usually as minor elements. As a player, it's difficult to feel as though you've mastered anything when the game is in teach mode seemingly all the time.
One look at BOXBOY! is enough to be impressed by its dedication to the Game Boy aesthetic. Less impressive is what BOXBOY! then does with it: nothing. The aesthetic is little more than a photo filter peddling manufactured nostalgia. Yes, the sprite work is chunky and minimal, with a clean look designed to hold up on a notoriously blurry display. But so what? Why force constraints — for visuals, audio, and scope — when you have no plans to challenge them?
BOXBOY! doesn't have a good answer for why it co-opts an iconic visual style and, given the overly pervasive retro "throwback" trend that has dogged smaller games for years, probably didn't expect anyone to even question its decision.
BOXBOY! will surely find an audience among those who are deeply in love with the Game Boy's sensibilities, but this writer is finding it increasingly difficult to be nostalgic for a style that never goes away. What's left, then, is a polished puzzler with surprisingly dull tendencies.