Unbox takes you back to a simpler time.
The time of the 90’s platformer to be exact. Anyone who grew up gaming in the 90s will remember the typical platforming formula of collecting keys/crystals/eggs, tackling various challenges along the way, collecting secondary items to help purchase costumes or items, and opening new doorways to optional levels/areas. Add in a hub world to centre everything around and a Super Mario 64-style free-roam open level, and you have the magical era Unbox emulates so well.
All of the characters in Unbox‘s world are cardboard boxes from GPS (Global Postal Service), who have been tasked with self-delivering themselves across the world whilst also saving the postage industry from the threat of evil boxes. As you’d expect from an anthropomorphic box, they have eyes and mouths, and are able to roll around, jump and talk. Staying true to the charm of those early 3D platformers, Unbox focuses more on quirky characters and situations rather than innovative and deep gameplay. As a result, you’ll find many challenges of a similar nature, but little twists are added to change up the narrative and lessen the repetitive nature of the game.
For instance, each box has its own personality and character trait. Amongst others, there’s an Easter bunny, a short-tempered fellow named Gnash, a racer box and a Gameboy-style box. Each box’s individuality helps colour the challenges they offer, along with injecting some humour and charm into the game. Their challenges may be similar – i.e. race here, collect these, take this there – but the change in story and dressing ensures each one feels fresh and unique.
For some that may be repetitive, but the enjoyment of the challenges lies in the humorous dialogue and funny situations you find yourself in. It’s about creating multiple situations and opportunities for the characters to do their thing, and not so much to provide you with a varied array of challenges to tackle. Where Unbox avoids becoming too much of the same however, is in its steadily increasing difficulty and complexity of each challenge. As you enter new areas, the same format of challenges begin to branch out a little, adding shorter timers, more objects to collect spread over larger areas, and boss battles that have more phases to them, requiring more agility and skill on your part.
That said, it’s impossible to fail in Unbox, as there are no lives, and the health system is very forgiving. If you die the mission doesn’t restart; you don’t get a game over. You simply start back at the nearest checkpoint, or you respawn and try again. You may think that this makes Unbox sound like a kid’s game, offering next-to-no challenge. Admittedly, I thought the same myself before I came to negotiate with the most basic mechanic of the entire game: movement.
Because your character is a box, movement is almost a rolling action, but the corners and edges of the box send you spiralling out of control if you aren’t careful on how you approach the terrain. As such, it’s far easier to repeatedly jump to get where you need to be, as navigating on the floor is much slower and less accurate. For some players, this will be a turn off. Trying to roll a box wildly around can instigate the same kind of frustrations that a rugby player will know all too well, where the shape of the ball will cause a sudden random bounce as you try to catch it. That said, the physics are consistent enough that there isn’t any bad collision detection going on that causes sudden spikes in rolling or sudden jerk-style jumps that the player can’t anticipate or correct for.
If you don’t mind this style of erratic movement, then the movement is incredibly fun to navigate with, and provides an additional layer of challenge that will surprise and go against expectations for what is otherwise a fairly easy and relaxing platforming experience. That small design choice to keep a box’s unnatural rolling rhythms provides most of Unbox‘s challenge in a simple mechanic. Races become harder, climbing mountains on uneven terrain becomes tense and frightening, and the way you approach jumps and make precise landings needs to be carefully considered to avoid bouncing off to the side. Again, it’s a simple thing which you’ll either appreciate and relish the challenge, or you’ll hate and it’ll break the entire game for you.
There are plenty of costumes to unlock in the game, giving you a massive amount of customisability to personalise your experience. Add in a bright and eye-catching art style and fantastic soundtrack, and you have an extremely tight experience that very much pulls back to that magic 3D platforming era once more – albeit with a completely modern overhaul. The levels are vast and huge, and have plenty of collectibles, secrets, hidden locations and boxes trapped in cages to find and save. For those of us who enjoy a good collect-a-thon, you’ll find yourself hooked on Unbox for weeks to come, scouring each level to find every item and complete every challenge. There’s also a multiplayer experience to try out with your friends if you miss good old split-screen experiences as well.
Unbox very much encompasses the quintessential style of 90’s 3D platforming that many of us loved back in the day. So many games have tried to find something similar in recent years, but most fall short because they lack the essential ingredients. Memorable and identifiable characters, good music, exciting and interesting challenges, themed levels, and the player’s interaction with the environment all add up to make a winning 3D platformer, and Prospect Games, the team behind Unbox, is very aware of that. Unbox brings together all the elements that made those 90’s experiences so fun and charming, packaging them together to create a very casual experience that can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of their ages and gaming backgrounds. Unbox may only include a handful of areas to explore, but what it lacks in quantity is more than made up for in detail and personality.