|Release Date||September 5, 2016|
Disclaimer: Review code provided
Unbox is one of the happiest games I think I’ve played for a while. Everything from the music to the visuals, story and characters bombarded me with a relentless assault of cheeriness the likes of which hasn’t happened in a long time. Combine that with the fact that Unbox is a throwback to 90’s style 3D platformers (such as Super Mario Sunshine and Banjo-Kazooie) and the whole experience left me feeling both cheerful and nostalgic. And a few other things too, but I’ll get to that.
Unbox casts you as a self-delivering, sentient cardboard box. Created as a last ditch resort to save the failing Global Postal Service, you’re the fastest, toughest, best self-delivering cardboard box ever assembled. You’re spit out of the assembly line into a world full of sentient cardboard boxes. It’s also a world gripped by civil war, as the Global Postal Service finds itself fighting the Wild Cards, a breakaway faction of boxes led by Wild Boss and his gang of rock-n-roll anarchists.
That story description probably lends Unbox more gravitas than it actually has. It’s a very silly game. It’s also a game not afraid to embrace its silliness. As I said above, it’s a very silly game and one that never takes itself too seriously. A very basic story of “stop the bad guys” is given life by the settings inherent absurdity and a wonderfully adorable cast of characters.
Unbox is a platformer and as such you’re going to spend most of your time jumping around and exploring its hub worlds. There are three (plus the GPS headquarters located on an oil rig, called Other Base naturally) – Paradise Isles, a series of idyllic, sun-soaked islands, Parcel Peaks, a snow-covered mountain range and a jungle called Isla Cartulina. Each one offers a series of different twists on Unbox’s platforming mechanics.
Paradise Isles is a fairly standard hub that offers mostly straightforward platforming gameplay. Parcel Peaks is similar but comes with icy terrain that players can use for momentum, as well as a greater degree of verticality. Isla Cartulina is one massive landmass that comes complete with ancient ruins, temples and a dormant volcano. These hubs are distinct from one another aesthetically, as well as from a gameplay standpoint.
As in the 90’s platformers that it takes its inspiration from, you’ll spend the vast majority of your time collecting things in Unbox. At the top of your list are stamps – you’ll need to collect a certain number of them to gain access to each world’s boss fight, which you must complete to move on. There are stamps hidden throughout each world, but the main way to gain them is to complete tasks and challenges set by the supporting cast of sentient boxes. There’s quite a variety in these challenges.
You’ll be charged with such assignments as clearing out Wild Card gang members from nearby villages, collecting parts/relics/more by completing a series of platforming challenges, racing the clock around tracks and more. Each of the supporting characters will have a different kind of challenge waiting for you, some more fun than others. You’ll bump into each of these characters in each world of Unbox – disappointingly, however, they tend to offer you the same challenge each time. Superbox will always tell you to clear out a nearby village, for example.
There’s also golden tape to collect…and a lot of it. Each of the three worlds in Unbox has 200 rolls of golden tape for you to find. You’ll grab a lot of it simply getting from point A to point B, but if you’re after collecting it all then you’ll need to check every nook and cranny of the game to get it. You only need them to unlock some of the cosmetic items (and for completionism, if you’re into that sort of thing), the rest you can unlock by completing challenges. The options for customising your box are fairly extensive and generally quite amusing.
Controlling your cardboard box, however, is certainly a challenge. As you might expect if you’ve imagined how difficult it can be to control a sentient box, just getting Newbie around a corner or over a small fence can take some effort. Luckily you’ve got a trick in your arsenal – unboxing. Essentially, unboxing acts as a sort of double jump, albeit one you can use up to six times. By shedding a layer of cardboard from yourself you can propel yourself higher, or further depending on what you’re trying to do.
Unboxing is a sort of equaliser to how incredibly fiddly it can feel to control the protagonist. Not only does it allow you to jump higher, it can also act as a sort of course correction, allowing you to save yourself if you’ve mistimed or misjudged a jump. And you will mistime and misjudge your jumps. A lot. As awkward as it is rolling around as a cardboard box, jumping is even trickier. It can make platforming infuriating, especially during one of the many challenges that requires any level of precision.
When engaging in combat, racing or general mayhem Unbox always manages to stay just about on the right side of fun. When it tasks you with actual platforming it takes a long dive into frustration. It’s next to impossible to line up a jump with any kind of accuracy. I can’t tell you the number of times I thought I had lined up a jump pretty reasonably, only to completely miss my intended target. Or worse still landed, only to roll over the edge of a platform thanks to the awkward angles of my cube-shaped protagonist.
It becomes infuriating quickly and all the fun times I was having quickly evaporated. A lot of the challenges (and many of the hiding spots of Unbox’s collectables) require a level of precision that the game simply cannot offer. Some of these challenges even deign to arbitrarily remove your ability to unbox altogether. It’s a damn shame that these sections exist because they take away a lot from what is an otherwise fun game.
Take combat, for example. Whenever I was tasked by Superbox to clear a village full of Wild Cards I was having a great time. You attack enemies by jumping above them and bouncing on them, or by blowing them up with fireworks if you can find some ammunition. They attack back by doing the same. Only rather than blow you up, their fireworks produce a number of random effects – causing you to float harmlessly in the air or attaching themselves to you and firing you at high velocity across the map, for example.
In the backdrop of chaotic, explosive combat the sloppy and imprecise controls work quite well. The same is true when exploring the hub world. And the boss fights against Boss Wild are pretty entertaining too. Inevitably, however, the game will throw you into a situation where you need to actually go platforming. That’s the moment the fun ends and the frustration begins. Like having a whale of a time running around the park without a care in the world, only to be yanked back because you need to tie your shoes and be careful because you might trip over.
Unbox is a fun game that has a bad habit of forcing aggrivating sections of gameplay on its players every now and again. I can’t deny that I was won over by the games charm – its absurd story, cheerful disposition and delightful cast of characters make it an easy game to enjoy. But that enjoyment is tempered by the sloppy controls and a complete inability to ever really feel confident whenever you try to make a jump. Whenever Unbox lets you get on with simple tasks, such as combat or puzzle solving or general exploration, it’s a fun little game and a successful throwback to 90’s 3D platformers. But Unbox always has a challenge or five waiting for you that requires a level of precision platforming that the game simply cannot live up to. In the end, Unbox is still a good time (especially if you’re a fan of old school platforming), but that good time is sometimes tested by the ocassional poorly thought out sections of gameplay.
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