Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure is ‘packed’ full of features reminiscent of classic '90s 3D platformers such as Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie. Developed by Manchester-based indie studio Prospect Games, the game has been described as a “love letter” to those legendary titles and, thanks to more modern technology, is hoping to ‘deliver’ the ultimate ‘package’ in the genre. Does it manage this feat, though? Maybe we should jump into things and ‘wrap up’ these awful puns (about which we're truly sorry).
You take control of Newbie – a cardboard box that has been sent on an adventure to train up and become the best delivery box imaginable. You need speed, you need to be sturdy and, essentially, you need to be amazing at stereotypical, platform-game manoeuvres! The basic idea here is that you must travel across the game’s three main worlds (there is also a fourth ‘hub world’) to complete a whole host of tasks given to you by your colleagues at GPS – the Global Postal Service. Completing these tasks will get you Stamps and, once you’ve collected enough of these, you’ll be able to fight that world’s boss (you see, it’s not all sunshine and sticky tape for Newbie and the gang – an evil race of cardboard boxes called the ‘Wild Cards’ are up to all sorts of mischief).
Unbox’s unique quality is that one particular move sees you perform a special kind of ‘double jump’ that can actually be used up to six times. This skill is called “unboxing” and basically sees you shed a layer of cardboard skin to propel yourself – kind of like a disturbing, papery snake. This style of movement means that – as long as you have enough skin layers (or ‘health’) – you can launch yourself all over the place, spinning your cute little self this way and that through the air. By pressing ‘B’, Newbie has the ability to slam down on the floor, temporarily confusing any nearby opponents and you can also regenerate at will which is useful for times where you might find yourself getting stuck (each world contains various checkpoints enabling you to warp back to the last one you found).
Some things about this game are wonderful: the characters have a comedic side to them which – whilst aimed at a younger audience – can be funny at times; the idea of a world ran by sentient cardboard boxes is enough to make this writer’s love for the Toy Story films be digitally realised once again; and the optional collectables instantly take you back to the greats from which this game’s inspiration was took. Each world has Stamps, Master Stamps, Zippies (poor, trapped, friendly boxes), and 200 Golden Tapes to find. Sometimes these Golden Tapes are in plain view along pathways, sometimes they are hidden around corners, and occasionally they will be beautifully tucked away in tiny crevices – it is a completionist’s dream. Also, the idea for the aforementioned ‘unboxing’ technique creates some interesting platforming opportunities and hurtling yourself through the air to reach a really distant platform is good fun.
Unfortunately, there are also a lot of things wrong with the game – some of which are particularly poor. For starters, the controls are far from being the greatest we’ve ever seen – you’ll likely want to immediately alter your camera’s sensitivity as its default setting is dizzying, and going through the game’s menus can be annoying thanks to each directional movement needing a second before the control can function again. The camera is pretty abysmal at times too – it seems to keep your box character directly in the centre of the screen, but because your box rolls unevenly on corners, the camera bounces around slightly with every odd-angled roll of your character along the ground. It also often finds itself getting stuck in various different pieces of scenery; you will indefinitely find yourself inside a cliff or stuck behind a tree every minute or so and the camera movement on the right control stick can only help so far with this.
Other issues plague the game, too. Sometimes when you are taken to a loading screen (which can be a pretty long wait), the soundtrack will get stuck – skipping like a scratched vinyl until it sorts itself out. The visuals can sometimes stutter and at times there are highly noticeable frame drops. When a game is centred around platforming with an already ‘floaty’ and imprecise control scheme, any screen freezes make any attempt at landing on your desired location very tricky and highly frustrating. This doesn’t happen all the time – sometimes the platforming feels effortless and exactly how you would hope – but it happens too often to not be mentioned.
Unbox also offers a local multiplayer mode should you want a break from your training. There are five different games to choose from such as a race, a ‘capture the flag’ style game, and others which task you with collecting more goodies than other players or using weapons against them to reap rewards. All of these strategies can be learnt in the main game as they are similar to some of the tasks you must complete to collect your Stamps. You can play these games just for fun in ‘Free Play’ mode, or you can set up your own customised tournament to see who is the best box of them all. The multiplayer action is ‘OK’ (it does the job), but it is troubled with the same issues as the main game and is never as fun as it should be. Also, with the game needing both control sticks to move your character and camera around, using a single Joy-Con isn’t an option; you’ll need either a Pro Controller or complete set of Joy-Con each to play.
Unbox gets everything right in theory, but fails to actually deliver on the majority of its goals. The character design, the core ‘unboxing’ mechanic, and the collecting side to the game could have been great but there are just too many problems standing in the way for it to be truly successful. We can’t help but feel that the game just needed an extra dose of love and attention on the technical side of things because, if that was at the standard of the creativity and fun of the characters and ideas, it would have been a great experience and a whole lot of fun. As it stands, it might not be quite worth your time.