Boxes are perhaps gaming's most utilitarian item. You can push them around to hit switches or access higher areas, and they make for great cover when you're under fire. They feature in everything from blockbuster action games to retro classics. Basically, when you see a box in a game, you know it has a use — and Boxboy takes that idea to its logical extreme. It's a downloadable puzzle / platform game for the Nintendo 3DS that's exclusively about using boxes to navigate increasingly tricky levels. You even play as a cute little box with eyes. And it's pretty great.
Boxboy's core mechanic is a bit strange at first, but becomes natural once you play for a bit. Essentially, you're able to generate boxes at will (the number varies depending on the puzzle) and use them create shapes to help you progress. You can only have one box structure at a time, and the challenge comes from figuring out the ideal shape to get you where you need to be. You can make a staircase to get up high, or a bridge to cross a gap. Eventually you'll even be able to make a grappling hook out of boxes to propel yourself up ledges.
This simple conceit works, and doesn't grow tiring, because Boxboy constantly throws new ideas at you. Each new world in the game — which consists of around seven levels each — introduces a new concept, whether it's moving conveyor belts, cranes that can pick up boxes, or stumbling characters who you'll need to guide to safety. It's pretty amazing how many things you can do with boxes. It took me around five hours to beat the initial set of levels, but after the credits roll, multiple new worlds open up and you can unlock time and score challenges as well. There are 173 stages in all.
Boxboy is also an incredibly charming game. It may be entirely black and white, and the main character may be a square sitting atop two tiny stick legs, but he's full of personality. He does a fun little dance when you beat a stage, and his eyes become intense and focused when he squeezes out a new box shape. You can unlock costumes so you can dress him as a little box devil or wizard.
That the game is both cute and fun isn't really surprising — it's developed by Hal Laboratory, the Nintendo studio best known for the ridiculously adorable Kirby series. Boxboy may look spartan by comparison, but it has all of the ingredients the studio's games are known for. And it really makes me want to see more Nintendo studios try on bite-sized games like this, tiny experiences where there's more freedom to try weird new ideas. Imagine what Metroid Prime maker Retro Studios could come up with, or strategy studio Intelligent Systems, with the chance to make something small and new — and maybe even put it on your phone.
Boxboy is available in the Nintendo 3DS eShop starting today.