How many of you guys like Mario? By which I don’t mean the age-old Super Mario Bros. you played on your fake NES. How many of you loved the 3-Dimensional Mario of the N64 and Gamecube era? Unbox is a lot like that. I remember playing Super Mario 64, and being wowed by a ‘level select’ level as amazing as Princess Peach’s castle+ garden area. I felt a sense of Deja Vu when I started playing Unbox, with a huge ‘level select’ world on a rig in the middle of the ocean.
The game is made by an ambitious team of 7 who call themselves Prospect Games, based in Manchester, England. Unbox is about the story of one cardboard box (you) who’s the chosen one to help a company of self delivering boxes (Global Postal Services) beat a criminal syndicate (Wild Cards) trying to hinder their progress. Yes, the story is simple but there aren’t many good platformers with a good story. At least the devs were creative enough to make a character you’ve NEVER played as. (Unless you played as a box using a cheat code in NFS2SE, Ahh… the 90’s)
Reminiscing aside, it is a good game and can be compared to Banjo Tooie/Kazooie and Super Mario 64, but due to memory restrictions in the old days, levels couldn’t be large, so Nintendo and Rare managed a ‘Small but many levels’ formula, where there would be 10-20 different levels to explore. Modern game engines do make larger levels easily, and Prospect Games, being a small team, implemented the ‘Large but few levels’ formula where there are HUGE levels, but only 4 of them, and that’s including the level select.
That’s the reason this game is short, but I don’t count it as a con, because the game was ‘just’ starting to get repetitive, and it’s like they knew perfectly when to stop. Nintendo has way more creativity when it came to making levels, obviously. We feel 3D platformers are one of the toughest genres to make a game in. Because gameplay and level design should be impeccable in a platformer, not many dare to do the task, and Prospect Games does well enough. While it nails it in gameplay and fun world design, lack of creative missions are an issue.
The Banjo series had Jiggies, the Mario games had Stars, and Unbox has Stamps. Another derived formula, where you need to collect X number of Stamps to get to the boss. There are 2 ways to get stamps in this game, do an errand mission (Usually a series of races, a high climb, rescue or a kill all enemies mission) or search for the hidden ones. Usually completing main missions gets you enough to reach the main boss, but not in Unbox. You are expected to get a few hidden stamps for exploration sake, and that I like. (BTW: I did get all 120 stars in Super Mario 64 and Galaxy 2)
Usually these games have a lot of hidden things that you can collect, and Unbox has them too, 200 golden tapes scattered in each world. They aren’t really needed for the story, but you’ll waste hours into searching all of them once your OCD kicks in. I collected 196/200 in one of the worlds and the final 4 are driving me nuts, and that’s the whole point of their existence.
The game in made in Unreal Engine, so the physics and shading is downright flawless. And it maintains 60FPS on my old 3 year 280X. Optimization better than most AAA devs. I absolutely love the subtle Instagram filter color correction they have going on there. The rig looks colorful and has really good level design, the isles and the mountains have a vacation vibe to it, and the Mayan forest is calming to look at with bright greens and dark shadows. The graphics are kiddish but I like it a lot cause it reminds me of simpler times.
The game mechanics are a hit and miss, as they introduce “Unboxing” instead of double jumping, where you do an additional jump in mid-air, by sacrificing an unbox point (Which is also your health). Unboxing can make some levels too easy and should be banned in all missions, and there are tons of checkpoints around that make the game almost too easy sometimes. No concept of death furthers the ease of playing. There no punching or kicking since you are a box, though there is a slam and a weapon box. Level destruction also available, surprising for an indie title, and you can destroy entire houses and temples with TNT or Missiles, like Crysis (2006).
All in all Unbox is a great platformer for the PC and the developer also believes in Demos! I thought demos were extinct. Grab a free demo, or better pay the low price of around Rs.500 to play the full game on steam. It’s a short game clocking at around 5-10 hours, but Nintendo fans without a Wii U will find some relief in this ambitious project. Go play it.