With no news on a potential port of Super Mario Maker for Switch, it’s fallen to Austrian indie studio - and long-time Nintendo developer - Bplus Games to step in with its own slice of creative mayhem. Puzzle Box Maker distils the often daunting task of designing your own level into an instantly intuitive format, then lets you run wild with mini-games and platforming sections pulled straight from your imagination.
Bplus has drawn inspiration from its own back catalogue here, cherry picking the very best bits and stirring them together into a bubbling stew of mechanics that seemingly shouldn’t blend so well. The game comes loaded with hundreds of pre-designed levels, all of which can be tackled in a variety of different modes, including Copycat (where you fill in the colours on screen, racking up the scores like a high-speed colour-by-numbers), Bomb (which involves using the gyros in Switch to guide explosives into your creations and collect tokens) and Kubi (where you explore your level as a floaty, fly-collecting cube).
The colour painting action harks back to the motion-controlled madness of Plättchen Twist 'N' Paint on WiiWare, and while it doesn’t require the same hand-eye coordination of its virtual ancestor the end result is a level-building design suite that practically anyone could pick up and enjoy. With every canvas set on a 2D plane, and a set of basic colours tied to the face buttons, you can throw together a design in a matter of seconds. Then, just as quick, you can take on your own level in the fast-paced Run (where you’ll need to outrun a bubbling wall of danger) or leap into Classic mode and colour in your level on rails.
Being able to almost instantly start playing a mini-game set in your own brilliant/utterly embarrassing build is great, but the simplicity of its design suite does comes with a caveat. Since you only have access to the colours that enable you to build platforms, there’s no way to add enemies, power-ups or collectibles. All these are present when you play a mini-game, but they’re auto-generated, so there’s a frustrating glass ceiling as to how deep you can really customise.
So it might not have the depth of choice in design features you’d find in Super Mario Maker, but this shouldn't stop you getting a kick out of seeing your 2D level reimagined in the realm of 2.5D. Every structure you’ve built is automatically adjusted to create interior levels, entrances and exits, effectively turning any kind of level design into a playable level filled with collectibles to find, enemies to evade and bombs to throw. The floatiness of blocky platforming avatar Kubi (who’s already made a couple of appearances on Nintendo platforms, including 2014’s Bit Boy!! Arcade on 3DS) makes for a forgiving platforming experience, but one that can be ramped up depending on the complexity of your own work.
Not all of its modes land as well as others. Claw, which remaps your levels into a maze and requires you to fish coins from its recesses for points with a mechanical grabber, never quite comes together due to the aforementioned floatiness of physics, ultimately ending up as a mode too far for Puzzle Box Maker. Thankfully, most of the others serve as an endearing way to make playing the same layout in multiple ways.
So whether you’re controlling Kubi or conjuring up your creations in the design lab, there’s an invigorating player agency to be had in Puzzle Box Maker. Sure, you’ll get a prolonged kick out of its pre-designed levels (which you can unlock in chunks with the coins you collect along the way), but it’s the user generated potential that makes this indie title a worthwhile investment. It’s also refreshingly simple to use, making it ideal for younger Switch owners, while offering enough depth in both its content and premise to keep more experienced players returning for more.
Sprinkle in a raft of difficulty settings for those looking to test their mettle (and maybe grab a little inspiration on the way), online functionality (where you can share your levels with others, try out submissions from across the community and compete for high scores) and co-op shenanigans (via split-screen, no less) and you've got a package that strikes just the right balance between Pac-Man-esque high score chasing, arcade mini-game sensibilities and family friendly game design.
Though it doesn't quite get everything right, Puzzle Box Maker has plenty to offer for those eager to get creative and enjoy the fruits of their labour.