It's strange how little a concept matters as long as the execution is done well; just recently we criticised Dahku Creations' Soon Shine for playing too much like a mobile game rather than a home console title. Yet here we are with SHUT THE BOX (which seems like it's yelling at you), created by one-man studio RCMADIAX of BLOK DROP U fame, presenting us with an even more stripped-down, mobile-style experience; yet we're somewhat more impressed with this title than some of its contemporaries.
SHUT THE BOX begins blandly enough. The static, totally un-animated title screen with gaudy childlike colours gives a questionable first impression, and the digital manual doesn't include anything other than the mandatory Nintendo legal notices and safety information; yet then you're immediately blasted in the ears with a faceload of poppin' electronic music that clashes with the entire visual style of the game... in a welcoming, homemade-charm sort of way. SHUT THE BOX features no multiplayer, special modes, or even an option menu – the only thing you can select from the main menu is "PLAY." And play we shall.
Upon PLAYing, SHUT THE BOX tells you everything you need to know:
1. Press the button to toss the dice.
2. Pick tiles that add up to the dice value.
3. Try to remove all the tiles to get the highest score.
That's it. That's the entire game. You're presented with three rows of tiles numbered from one to nine, and you use mental arithmetic to eliminate them. The actual gameplay graphics are just as garish as in the title screen, and the only animation to be found is when the tiles are dealt onto the board – there's not even a dice-rolling animation. The music, which starts out fresh and interesting, turns out to be just one short song played on a loop, and the only saved data is your highest score. So what makes SHUT THE BOX worthwhile?
Simply put, RCMADIAX nails the core gameplay. The controls are entirely touch-based and the same gameplay is displayed on both screens, but while Soon Shine felt like a smartphone app due to its mindless stylus-tapping core mechanics, SHUT THE BOX uses the basic touch interface to facilitate a deeper experience. It's the perfect balance of skill and luck to make you keep coming back for more, in the same way that your dad – who claims he doesn't like video games – will spend hours on his computer playing Spider Solitaire. You can learn how to play in about thirty seconds, but you'll take hours to master it. There's not even any AI or scaling difficulty required; the luck of the dice keeps it interesting. Of course, the price helps. SHUT THE BOX retails in North America for a mere 99¢, less than the cost of a can of Mountain Dew; or any other beverage, there's no sponsorship going on here.
The real question is: why is this game called SHUT THE BOX? It's a game about tiles and dice. There are no boxes to be found in SHUT THE BOX. Does the whole game take place within a box? Is the Wii U "the box"? Why do we need to shut it? What's in the box?
RCMADIAX has produced perhaps its best game yet with SHUT THE BOX, not by creating a bigger experience but by shaving it down to its core mechanics and offering it for the lowest price possible. As the Wii U's indie developers grow and evolve, we begin to see more fun little games like this – hopefully it won't get lost in the shuffle of shovelware.