HAL laboratories has been making games for Nintendo consoles for longer than I’ve been alive, so it’s unsurprising that if anyone was going to try something old-school, they would the ones to succeed. With the third iteration of BoxBoy for 3DS they have made a game that looks, feels, and plays as if it’s from the Gameboy era – and it's glorious.
If you have lingering concerns about jumping into the Box-Boy series at the third instalment, allow me to ease your mind. Bye-Bye BoxBoy has no dialogue, no voice acting, or anything that comes close to telling a cohesive story. The different shaped box citizens run around and jump when communicating, but that’s it. All you need to know is there are four planets distorted by some black smoke, and the hero Qbby needs to complete puzzles to get rid of it.
Each planet is made up of several worlds, which in turn are broken into multiple stages. Each of these involves trying to traverse high ledges, cross spikes, and bubbling pits. To do this Qbby is armed with the ability to produce boxes from his body. These can be used to create a set of stairs, a bridge, or a means to lift Qbby up. This all sounds simple, and that’s because it is. The only other major ability Qbby has is snaking, where if placed in the right position, will see you zip you up a trail of laid down boxes.
These simple mechanics aren’t what make the game great – that comes from the creative puzzles made within its confines. Each stage gives you a maximum number of blocks that can be expanded from Qbby’s body, so you need to get inventive. You may need to create a set of stairs to get yourself up to a ledge over a pit of spikes, or place a bridge in a certain spot so that it will fall and land in the right place.
The puzzles are creative and will require you to look at them in different ways to overcome them, but they never get hard. Even with the incorporation of Qbabies (NPC’s who need to be safely led to the end) or different box types (warp, exploding, or rocket) I often found myself thinking “that’s clever,” but I never struggled to find solution. After the credits however, there is a sudden difficulty spike as some new worlds with significantly harder puzzles open up.
Thankfully, the hint system is well implemented. In a level you can expend one unit of currency, which creates a flashing image of the puzzle being solved. It shows you how to finish, but not necessarily how to get there – though that’s usually obvious once you know the shape and placement of the boxes.
The currency can also be used to buy music, costumes, and comic strips. These don’t add story, and are more akin to little jokes like those found in a newspaper. You can also purchase challenge worlds, which add conditional modifiers like limiting your jumps. These aren’t overly hard, but the variations in Qbby’s limitations make it a great way to flesh-out the Bye-Bye BoxBoy experience.
For those who value replayability, once you beat a stage you’ll be able to see the time it took, number of boxes used, and retries – so you can compulsively try to hammer those numbers down. Then there are up to two crowns hidden in plain sight in each level, which must be collected before using a certain number of boxes. This is handily tracked on the bottom screen, so you’ll know exactly when you run out.
Bye-Bye BoxBoy is a great little title that is well worth your time. The gameplay is simple, the puzzles built around them are clever, and the game is only let down by challenges being a tad too simple – at least until the post credit worlds, where it flips to hard. Despite this, its charming aesthetic makes it a handheld game that’s hard to put down when you’re on the go.
Blair received a digital copy of Bye-Bye BoxBoy from Nintendo for review.