Unbox PC Review
From the trailer and synopsis of “self-delivering boxes” alone one might assume that Unbox is comprised of many smaller challenges specifically themed around getting a parcel to its destination, but in fact it’s much more like the old-school collect-a-thons that were so plentiful back in the day. Games like Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, and Jack and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (to give some examples of the best), in which most of the time the goal is to collect anything and everything you see. Where the world is simply littered with items of varying difficulty and rarity to find, as well as challenges and battles that reward with yet more collectibles. So whilst the story of the game is about a delivery service creating self-aware and mobile boxes, the game is more about exploration, beating challenges, and fighting the bad guys.
Unbox’s main mechanic does what it can to fix the most annoying problem adventure games can pose – long travel times. This is done by giving the player 6 hits or ‘unboxes’ that can also be sacrificed for a double jump. So, if you have full ‘health’ you can cover huge distances across the map using the fabled ‘sextuple-jump’, allowing the player to reach high peaks, far way islands, and save themselves when falling to certain death. These ‘unboxes’ are often recovered quickly by collecting health packets or touching mailboxes (checkpoints) and I have to say it’s damn satisfying to roll up some momentum and boost across the map. Unfortunately that, with some basic driving mechanics, use of rockets that do all the work, and an eye for secrets is all it takes to completely master the game.
And whilst the game is fun in its own right, I can’t help but believe it is aimed at a much younger audience. There is very little challenge here and the story/character dialog is childish and frivolous. In a nutshell the player character is created as the perfect self-delivering box. With a bunch of zany, cliché characters at their side, one must collect stamps and fight back against the enemies of the GPS (Global Postal Service). More backstory can be found through talking with NPCs and discovering secret artefacts, but it never really rises above the idea of ‘fight the bad guys because they are bad’. That’s perfectly fine for a game that isn’t at all narrative focussed, but when on the other hand the platforming could also be considered paltry it’s made clear that Unbox falls a little under the mark in both respects.
There are three main things to ‘collect’ in each of the three areas of the game, not including the hub world – an oil rig called ‘other base’ (and that’s certainly not the only sneaky reference). The most common item is gold tape; there are 200 of these per area and they can be hidden just about anywhere. There are also 10 friendly boxes that have been captured, caged, and need to be freed. Both of these collectibles are just for fun and only unlock cosmetic upgrades for the main character, whereas the final collectible, stamps, are important to progression as an increasing amount of them are needed in order to tackle each stage’s boss fight. There are 18 per location and they are acquired both through discovery and completing challenges. So in total there are 800 gold tapes, 54 stamps, and 41 cages (one extra in the hub world) to find and that, wherein, is where the meat of the game lies – scavenging every conceivable corner of the worlds to discover every last item. It needs to be said that this aspect is tremendously addicting, even considering the lack of adversity.
There’s also a 2-4 people multiplayer aspect that consists of races to a finish line, collecting so many items before other players, and combat modes that allow use of a variety of confusing and overly-powerful weapons. It’s just a nonsensical array of explosions, balloons, rockets, black-holes, and more; none of which require any skill. I know I mentioned the game is for younger kids but a versus mode desperately needs to have some kind of way to improve and not just hope for the best weapons each time or else what’s the point? Each round it feels like the winner might as well have been pulled out of a hat, which can become frustrating pretty fast.
With lacklustre multiplayer and a simplified single-player that timidly asks for only basic platforming skills, completion of race challenges that provide plenty of time even after a few screw-ups, and battles that allow unlimited lives with no time limit or enemy respawns, Unbox is definitely not something that should be played if looking for a challenge. Although it’s still oddly fun to just stroll through the game leisurely and collect stuff, if that’s you’re thing, the world and characters never quite bring the charm we’re used to from the classics that it clearly draws from. Platforming games were always my go-to genre as a kid and Unbox does take me back to that in some sense, but realistically it brings all the difficulty I would expect from a game on a tablet device and I kind of feel that’s where it belongs.