Cardboard Box Assembler
Life's a party when you're a Cardboard Box Assembler in Fernando Ramallo and Miguel Ángel Perez Martínez's latest puzzle platformer game! All that monotony, the drudgery, the tedious, repetitive work for no respect and low level pay... awwwww yeah. There's an added perk too, of course, in that if you do enough of it, it just might drive you to have a psychotic episode that transports you to a magical 3D realm with topsy-turvy terrain, magical doors, and shiny gems. Will you ever find your way back? More importantly, do you even want to after a flashy, animated intro like that? (I think I need to go lay down. I feel like my eyeballs just gorged on every anime, ever.)
The world you're in may be unusual, but the controls are pretty straightforward. The [WASD] or [arrow] keys move your intrepid box warrior, and the [spacebar] lets you jump. In each stage, the goal is to get to the exit after collecting any keys you need to do so (the icon in the upper right corner tells you how many keys are left on a level.). Climb around, over, and under every level, in more than one direction, and you'll quickly begin to see where the real challenge lies. You'll also be able to grab gems, which are optional, but unlock special bonus worlds where you can get special upgrades like the eye-watering "3D Anaglyph Mode" for those of you who still have a pair of red and blue 3D glasses banging around (or the means to make your own). Don't worry if you miss a gem, since they're completely optional and you can replay any level you like.
As you progress through this strange boxy wonderland, you'll encounter different obstacles and mechanics you'll need to master in order to proceed, from switches that operate platforms, to switches that flip the gravity. You can't die no matter how far you fall (it seems our hero has Adamantium knees), and the only thing the timer influences is your score. So take your time, take a leap of faith or two, and you'll be the master of your strange domain... eventually.
Analysis: Cardboard Box Assembler basically winds up feeling a lot like the swankier cousin of Sophie Houlden's BOXGAME, and I mean that in the best possible way. It takes the basic concept and expands upon it, creating something that's smooth and very engaging to play. You never feel like you're fighting the camera with its fixed location, and the box never shifts beneath you as it moves in an unpredictable manner. While mentally keeping track of where any keys and gems are as you try to figure out how to maneuver yourself to get back around to them can be difficult, the fact that you can see the silhouette of the terrain through the box's background can usually help you figure out where you are.
My biggest criticism might actually be that as slick and wonderfully silly as the whole presentation is, the game feels like it's a bit slow to actually get rolling. The game is very slow to introduce new elements initially, so the first three worlds (or "trips") wind up looking and feeling very similar aside from their increasingly complex designs. The bonus worlds are actually the most interesting, both visually and conceptually, and I wish more of that weird/puzzling vibe had been present in more of the standard levels. The farther you go, however, the more intricate and clever the mechanics get until you really feel less like you're just falling around randomly hoping to land on a key and more as if you're actively figuring them out, and after the first four worlds, you'll really have your Big Boy/Girl Puzzle Pants on.
From its clean design to its clever puzzles, to say nothing of its silly cutscenes, Cardboard Box Assembler is both a great way to spend an afternoon, and marks the emergence of a bold new hero that represents the everyman. Provided the everyman has gone insane once in a while after the end of a long work week and willingly hurled themselves out of a window. I think we've all been there. (Ask Jay sometime about how much I've cost him in repairs.) Neither overly complex nor too simplistic, Cardboard Box Assembler is just plain fun, and a great example of the genre. The next time your work gets a bit too much for you, slap a cardboard box on your head, ignore the stares and whispers, and remember that there's someone out there who gets you.