From developer Witch Beam and publisher Humble Bundle comes Unpacking, a game about unpacking boxes. The on-paper one-liner may not sound impressive but the game, even on the surface is actually a cute little, nicely palatable puzzle game. The game’s concept doesn’t extend too far beyond that initial setup—the entire game consists of unpacking boxes and neatly organizing their contents in various locations—but the game embraces this simple setup and pairs it with some pleasant graphics, soothing music, and creative storytelling to put together an enjoyable, straightforward puzzling endeavor.
The game’s promotional material throws around the term “zen puzzle game” like it’s a well-established genre, and while I’m pretty sure they made up the term, it sure does explain the game quite well. To unpack a box, you just need to click on the box to open it, and then click again to pick something out. You pick out exactly what you would expect to unpack while moving homes: books, clothes, game consoles, art supplies, and anything else. Once you pick something out, you can put it anywhere it fits, but in order to finish the level, you have to place everything in an approved location (you can’t leave a pot on the bathroom floor or a stack of books on a chair). The game has eight different levels to unpack, that range from single rooms to entire houses. Some of the larger levels can grow a little tiresome, but part of the “zen” of the game comes from how you can create your own loops and work how you want. Personally, I tended to unpack everything onto the floor, clicking my way through the boxes quickly, and then place everything in the right place after, once I had seen the whole house and everything in it. Another player may have approached the game in an entirely different way though, and the game does a good job of accounting for different playstyles and different decorating sensibilities. I rarely felt like the game wouldn’t let me place an object in a spot that I thought fit nicely.
The promotional material for Unpacking talks a lot about the story, and how the game gives you an intimate look into a character and story entirely through their objects, and the game does this pretty well. The actual “story” of the game, the arc the character goes through, is decidedly pretty simple, but the way the game tells the story and the detail it gives to it really is pretty novel. While nothing in the story exactly surprised or even engaged me too much, the game pays very close attention to how it uses not just your objects, but also your space and the objects of the other people living in your space to build the characters of both you and the people you live with. One particular level I appreciated did an excellent job of clashing your visual style with the visual style of your roommate to create a sense of conflict between the two people. These moments are excellent, and I only wish the game got a little more creative with the story to allow for even more of them to happen.
In addition to the gameplay, Unpacking uses its own style to create its “zen” feeling as well. The game uses high-detail pixel art to create a soft, slightly vintage feel without sacrificing any visual quality or clarity, which is important for identifying the different objects. The game has all sorts of vibrant colors to make the spaces feel very lived in and the objects feel as though they have accumulated over many years. The game has a quaint, soft soundtrack that pairs nicely with the visuals and gameplay, though it doesn’t loop quite well enough and you will notice when each song ends, especially considering that the game sometimes has multi-second-long pauses between songs. Really, the best way to experience the game in my opinion though is to mute it and listen to your own music, or better yet a podcast, to really emulate the experience of unpacking boxes and moving into a new place.
Unpacking won’t dazzle you. You won’t have any deep revelations or powerful feelings playing it, but the game aims for exactly that. Instead of trying to thrill you or challenge you, the game wants to relax you. It doesn’t want to make you work and instead wants to give you a calm loop to zone out to, and on that front, it excels. I played this on PC, but it would work especially well on Switch, where you can either play it on the go or just get cozy in bed. I can’t call this game groundbreaking or even anything close to that, but it does exactly what it aims to do and if you need a nice way to calm down, this game will provide.
Score 7 out of 10
Reviewed on Windows 10 PC