Kurt
Jul 24, 2017
Publisher: Merge Games
Developer: Merge Games
Review platform: Xbox One
Release date: Jul 25, 2017
Remember just how good the Banjo-Kazooie games used to be? Even Nuts & Bolts was an interesting spin on the platforming series, even if it wasn’t necessarily what fans were looking for at the time. It had been an extremely long time since I’ve felt like I did playing a good old fashion 3D platformer like Banjo. Over time this genre of games has seemingly died out and lost its popularity. The closest you’ll get today is a Mirror’s Edge like action game with hardcore parkour and melee combat the focus. These sorts of games are cool but lack the innocent charm of a classic 90s platformer. When I got to playing today’s game of focus, Unbox, I had never expected it would go on to fill such a big hole in my gaming needs.

There’s a gorgeous simplicity to Unbox which we just don’t see all that often today. You play as a cute little customisable box that rolls and jumps around collecting tape and stamps to save a mail company. You get four open worlds with tonnes to explore through the game and all of its mechanics are detailed within the first 10 minutes or so. This is the sort of title that anyone can pick up, play and enjoy. Even the world designs themselves are generally simplistic and easy to follow. The best way I could describe Unbox’s world is that it feels very deliberate. I found myself constantly thinking that it made sense for that thing to be right there. Not once does it come across as though they were trying to meaninglessly fill space and artificially inflate the world’s size. To design the worlds in such a way that they are easy to follow but also wonderfully defined it not an easy task at all.



Simplicity isn’t always a good thing though. Whilst keeping everything basic does create a sense of cleanness, it also makes for a rather easy experience. Not once did I feel Unbox challenged me in my entire play through of the game. To its credit, I never felt cheated or as though the game was unfairly creating difficulty for me but that’s only because there was no challenge to begin with. Unbox is a very easy game with a pretty short play length for its price. To complete the core single player story only took me just over six hours and that’s with all the extra world exploring and mechanic testing I was doing throughout. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone trying to just burn through this could have the game wrapped up in less than 3 hours. Prospect Games may boast this as a “90s style 3D platformer” but they don’t perhaps mention it has the depth of one too. Considering the base retail price on Unbox is £20 ($30), there really isn’t enough content at the moment. It just doesn’t cut it for a 2017 game at that price tag.

This is a real shame because mechanically speaking Unbox does very little wrong. There were a couple of special missions that irritated me such as Hop’s jobs where he seems to love attaching things to you. The platforming system doesn’t deal with this well and I found myself getting stuck in platforms all too often. This is nit-picking though. 99% of the time jumping across platforms and navigating paths works just fine. The unbox mechanic from which the game gets its name is pretty cool too. It’s effectively just a double jump that you can activate up to six times but it quickly becomes your best friend once you get into the core of the game. Without this mechanic traversing the world would be horrible and time consuming. This was a necessary addition to allow the player to enjoy the landscapes around them. Also, it’s adorable. To jump further you throw out other smaller versions of yourself that were stored in you because you’re a box. Can’t lie, I love it. No doubting the aesthetic of Unbox is beautiful and cute. Can’t ask for much more than that.



I was surprised how many kicks I got out of the dialogue. In a lot of indie games such as these the characters can often feel bland however that never felt like the case for Unbox. There were even several lines that got a laugh out of me such as the clear jab at Mighty No. 9 being a flop from BMO look alike Digi. I feel it can actually be pretty hard to be both funny and still offer a product that is kid friendly. It’s an art that Disney has mastered with their films. Unbox gives off impressively similar vibes to this. Trying to explain comedy through words is a sure fail though so this is just something you’ll have to experience for yourself.



Unbox’s customisation options are fairly impressive although nothing out of the ordinary. You can pick from a range of box designs, hats, facial stuff (glasses, goggles, masks etc.) and body clothing. These are unlocked throughout the game by collecting something. It could be stamps, tape, diaries or even finding the mystery box on each world. Collecting really is the game here and if you are the sort of person who doesn’t enjoy video game collectables, stay away at all costs. Remember how I mentioned how short the game is? That only applies if you play it like you would most games. If you go out of your way and go after all the hidden secrets as planned it could take dozens of hours to 100%. If this is of value to you isn’t something I can judge. Honestly, it wasn’t really what I was looking for to be the core of the gameplay but this is far from unique within this genre.

Perhaps the biggest omission of all is that Unbox features a multiplayer game mode but it isn’t online at all. Maybe due to lack of funding or time, Unbox does not have any online elements to it. This is sadly another mark against the questionably high pricing of what is otherwise a solid platformer. If I could jump around the world with a friend collecting things as we spoke casually, this would be a far better product overall. I can’t honestly imagine we’ll be seeing this in the future either as the developer’s current plans seem to be just getting this on every platform possible. To their credit, they seem to be doing a good job of this. The Xbox One port does run pretty well with frame rate drops rarely occurring. The only real issue I spotted in this regard is that if you get on top of a tall structure and look around the world it tanks badly. I’m talking five to ten FPS badly. During most of your gameplay experience though there’s no real issues here.



Summary

What we’ve got here then is a rather good 3D platformer that effectively acts as a tribute to 90s jumping fun. If it wasn’t for the high price and lack of online multiplayer I’d recommend this in one fell swoop, no hesitation. With that not currently being the case though I can only really give this the nod to those who enjoyed games like Banjo-Kazooie and Crash Bandicoot among other platforming classics. It doesn’t add anything new to the genre, just revives it a little.
Our score: 7.5/10

Good - A solid concept with wide appeal, good fun if you can look past the flaws.
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