Life may be good when you're a ninja block, but the original BOXBOY! possibly ended up doing a bit too much sneaking around when it released last year. The HAL Laboratory puzzle-platformer went completely under the radar for some people, never gaining widespread attention or shaking the eShop up with its monochromatic stylings. Now touting double the blocks, its sequel BOXBOXBOY! hopes to pick up the slack, but has it done enough to convert twice as many blockheads as before?
For anyone unfamiliar with the original, BOXBOXBOY! is centered around a four-sided protagonist named Qbby and his never-ending journey from left to right. Each level is brimming with spikes, escalators, switches and lasers to avoid if you want to survive, which is where the ability to spawn sets of tetrominoes comes in handy. With the push of a button, Qbby can generate a set of blocks the same size and shape as himself, and use them to traverse the environment with careful thinking and some tactical platforming. Keeping Qbby attached allows for some interesting grapple hook and snake-sliding action, but it's also possible to detach and use the blocks to create new platforms out of thin air The rules may differ at times and certain levels can toss a spanner in the works, but these are essentially the puzzle solving basics you'll need to master in order to do well.
In that sense, fans of the original may be thinking that not much has changed, and for the most part that claim is fairly justified. Instead of completely re-inventing the wheel (or the box, hohoho), BOXBOXBOY! instead offers up plenty more of the same mechanics; refining and expanding on these core ideas rather than introducing a whole host of new ones. It's really more of an expansion pack than a true sequel, but with such a solid foundation to work from this certainly isn't a bad thing.
The game's major - and perhaps only - innovation this time around is the ability to spawn two separate sets of blocks simultaneously, opening up a range of new possibilities for movement and puzzle solving by providing the player with twice the number of elements to play around with at once. Because of this, players will find themselves stringing abilities together at a rapid pace and getting downright experimental with different combinations. It feels as though there are multiple solutions to many of the game's puzzles, especially if you're shooting to collect the optional crowns found scattered around each level. Use too many blocks and they vanish, so no small measure of optimisation is required if you want 100% completion.
It's a relaxed and thoughtful experience, even with a steady stream of new obstacles and ideas arriving as you progress from one world to the next. Movement is slow, the visuals are stripped back to their calming minimum, and there's no time limit hanging over your head at any point. Although experimentation and death go hand in hand, there are plenty of checkpoints available to ease frustration, and tapping L and R activates a quick restart when you get stuck. Should you really end up stuck, spending a 3DS Play Coin also unlocks a visual hint, which effectively shows the end state of a puzzle and leaves you to reverse-engineer the solution from that. It's a nice way to keep you engaged, especially when it's more likely than ever that you'll end up a little stumped from time to time.
While Qbby makes for an endearing protagonist, there really isn't any kind of narrative to be found here or memorable characters to break up the gameplay. It's clear to see that the puzzles take center stage, as the hub world can be ignored entirely if you prefer to just tap through menus to get to the next level, and the friends you rescue along the way don't do anything other than follow Qbby around and wait for any potential sequel where they might actually be put to good use. The shop returns from the original, ready to take your hard earned points in exchange for costumes, some lighthearted comics and a variety of music tracks. More are unlocked as you play through, but most of the best costumes can only be carried over if you've actually played the original BOXBOY!.
The general difficulty varies greatly from level to level, with challenging bonus worlds becoming available after completing the core game. These are supplemented by special stages that offer up puzzles focusing on specific ability-changing costumes. The bunny costume lets Qbby jump higher, for example. All in all, there's a solid 4 - 5 hours of brand new content here at an extremely tempting price point. Everything might seem a little bit more familiar to fans of the original, but the charming sheen and bubbly soundtrack hasn't entirely worn off just yet.
BOXBOXBOY! doesn't exactly blow expectation out of the water - the only real change is literally in the name - but having two sets of boxes to work with makes for more interesting and complex puzzles than before. While we'd argue that previous fans will get the most out of this sequel in the long run, it's a perfectly manageable entry point for newcomers if the tight mechanics and bite-sized chunks of puzzling goodness are starting to sound pretty good this time around.