In a world where almost everything can be recycled or reused, little thought is given to what’s discarded. Whatever happens to old aluminium cans and plastic tins that are thrown out or forgotten in our fast-moving world of “buy a new one once the old one is used up?” Ukrainian developer Triomatica serves up a delightful theory in their charming adventure game Boxville, where old cans have made a society of their own and have their own little life going on – complete with all the struggles, trials and dangers that doing so entails.
Our unnamed hero, who I like to call Can Man, lives in his little cardboard home with his dog – let’s call him … Can Dog. One day, Boxville is hit by a series of strange and unexplained shakes. Earthquakes? Boxshakes? No one knows. But what we do know is that Can Dog as a result of these quakes falls down from a ledge and disappears, and it is up to Can Man to find and save his CANine friend.
As you venture out to explore, you soon encounter some of the various inhabitants of this quirky little town. You have a black market salesman can, a shoeshine can, a gambling can and a bunch of hobo cans, just to mention a few Boxvillagers. To communicate with the other characters, you don’t use any direct dialogue. Instead, they tell you what they need or what has happened to them with a little cartoon-like pictogram, scribbled down on a torn piece of cardboard. And this is how you progress in your quest, by helping other can-people so that you’ll be able to move on to the next level and hopefully find your buddy. You’ll do so by collecting inventory items and solving little puzzles to restore peace and order after the box tremors in the familiar third-person point-and-click style.
The puzzles are varied but still typical genre fare, so if you’re well-versed in the adventure game universe, you have seen them all before. You have the classic pipe puzzle, where you need to help the plumber can redirect pipes so that the water can flow again; you have to make an elevator work by arranging cog wheels in the correct places; and you have to play a game of tic-tac-toe with a muscular can to win his dumbbell. The puzzles aren’t very challenging, but they’re fun nonetheless.
One of the puzzles did annoy me a bit, though. There is a machine that requires moving blocks around so that you can slide the one big blue block out of a hole, and you have to do this not once, not twice, but three times! I got a bit tired after the first two times, so I thought I would take a break and come back to it a bit later, and hey, what do you know: the game didn’t record my progress mid-puzzle. So I had to start over all the way from the beginning again. Since Boxville only autosaves, and there isn’t any indication of when it does, it is a bit unclear when you’re safe to exit.
There are no hints or any kind of help system to guide you if you get stuck. Your cursor (which is Can Man’s hand) starts to pulsate when it hovers over an interactive object, but only if it’s something you can pick up or directly interact with. If it is something you need to use an item on, it doesn’t light up until you take an item from your inventory and hold it over the appropriate object. Even then the hotspot only lights up a tiny little bit, which makes it tricky to sometimes know what to do. I guess you really need to go into it thinking that everything is there for a reason. Almost.
Both the gameplay and graphics remind me a lot of Machinarium. There are lovely hand-drawn visuals that are so quirky and charming, set in a kind of mechanical world without humans, but with robots – or in this instance, cans – instead. The characters and locations are beautifully designed, and the streets of Boxville are amusing and detailed. In some scenes, there is only a tiny room in focus, while in others you can see vast buildings made from boxes stacked on top of each other in what seems like an endless cityscape in the background. At first glance you might think that Boxville is a grey and drab town, but it turns out that this isn’t true at all. It’s got a little casino, plants grow on every corner, and there is even a circus in town! Ah yes, the inhabicans of Boxville have surely made a nice little society for themselves.
Another element as pleasant as the graphics is the soundtrack. The wonderful atmospheric background music changes throughout, so it isn’t just the same track playing over and over. For a game that’s as short as Boxville, I am impressed at how much love and care has been put into the score. It’s this really cool ambient “thinking” music, if you can call it that – a chill lo-fi-style with some tunes that even reminded me a little of the instrumental works of Bonobo. Although there isn’t any direct dialogue between the Boxvillagers, that doesn’t mean they are completely silent. Grumpy mumbling, frustrated sighs and snoring are just a few examples of how they express themselves, which only adds to how delightful and cute they are.
I played for about three hours in total; some would argue this is the perfect length – just keep it short and sweet – and some would probably say it’s too brief. I found myself somewhere in the middle, feeling that the game was long enough but I also wanted more. There is specifically one reason that I am happy that the game is so short, however. I was stuck at one point and was desperately looking for some kind of help. (Spoiler alert: there isn’t any.) In the menu, just as in the game, nothing is written; you only have symbols to go on. There’s the equivalent of a “return to the game” button, “settings,” “about us,” “exit game” and a star. “What could this mysterious star symbolise,” I wondered. A star could potentially signify a hint, so I went and pressed it, and it turns out that “star” restarts the game. And when you don’t have any way of saving manually, you unforgivingly have to start over. No save games available. Nothing. At least I didn’t have to play for hours to get back to where I was. Still a bit annoying, though.
Other than a couple of small technical issues, however, the game is very enjoyable. I especially loved the characters and their different roles in this quirky city. As an animal lover, I was immediately drawn in by the quest of saving Can Dog, and each time he slipped away or something happened to him, I let out loud outbursts of desperate yelps. While it is admittedly a bit short and the puzzles are anything but original, Boxville is a truly beautiful game about friendship and the importance of being nice to others, regardless of whether it is people or cans.
With its delightful art style, fun puzzles, loveable characters and wonderful soundtrack, Boxville gives us a fascinating glimpse into the quirky world of aluminium cans, even if it is a short one.
- Beautiful hand-drawn graphics and detailed locations
- Quirky and adorable characters
- Atmospheric soundtrack
- Fun and varied puzzles
- No manual save and no indication of when the game autosaves
- No hints to help if you get stuck
- Quite short at only three or so hours
Aurora played Boxville on PC using a review code provided by the game’s publisher.