Video games

Unpacking Game Review: A Life Told in Boxes

Unpacking takes you on a journey of the player's life as told by the eight homes they’ve lived in throughout their life. Although the game doesn’t have dialogue and characters that dive into the lore, the puzzles and the player’s possessions will tell the touching story for you—just pay close attention to the details.

In a time where high-stakes first-person shooters and battle royales are dominating the gaming space, it’s always nice to find a relaxing game where you don’t have to think much. Then there’s Unpacking, a game that successfully made moving fun and cute.

Moving boxes (and hearts)

Made by Australian-based indie studio Witch Beam Games, Unpacking is a zen puzzle game where you literally have to unpack boxes and organize items into a new home. The trailer alone shows just how much thought was put into each item and how they’ll all fit in the space you’re given. Think Tetris, but with plushies, books, and other knick-knacks.

Unpacking takes you on a journey of the player’s life as told by the eight homes they’ve lived in throughout their life. Although the game doesn’t have dialogue and characters that dive into the lore, the puzzles and the player’s possessions will tell the touching story for you—just pay close attention to the details.

The indie game just came out this month, but it already received nominations and accolades, including GOTY and Accessibility Awards at the Australian Game Developer Awards 2021 and PAX Online Indie Showcase Winner at PAX Online 2020, among many others. It’s a clear shoo-in for game of the year.

Visuals – 5

Right off the bat, Unpacking’s charm comes from its pixel-art graphics. It reinforces the nostalgic vibe, giving you a sense of hominess as you remove possessions from the boxes.

As you play the game, it’s easy to notice how well-made the items look. The furniture and appliances are simple yet familiar, the gadgets upgrade every level, and the stuffed toys look soft to the touch. But the real stars are the thoughtful details as you go through various years in the player’s life. For example, the player upgraded their bulky Microsoft monitor in 2004 to a flat-screen one in 2007. One of the items they kept was a colorful mousepad, which actually shows signs of wear.

Plus, the developers really took the time to design smaller items, like the covers of DVDs and Wii CDs, and the growing number of fridge magnets. Just be ready to zoom in a lot when you can’t figure out what they are at first.

The animation is also smooth when you’re opening closets and drawers, as well as stacking folded clothes. Switching from room to room can make you feel dizzy, especially in the later levels, but it doesn’t affect the overall gameplay much.

Mechanics – 4.5

Unpacking is a pretty straightforward puzzle. There’s no lengthy tutorial—in fact, you can just watch any of the GIFs on social media to understand how to play it. It starts with the player’s childhood room Ultimately, the challenge is figuring out where you’d logically place each item. The game even takes it a step further by putting unrelated items in certain rooms. (Ex. One of the boxes in the bedroom contains a pot from the kitchen)

Admittedly, this relaxing game can also get annoyingly tedious. There will be times where you’ll run out of space for stuff because of the sheer number of them. This problem usually happens with books and DVDs, which you have to place on shelves along with other decor. It also tests the neat freak in you, especially when the game prompts you that an item is in the wrong spot and you have to begrudgingly squeeze them on an already crowded surface.

That being said, each level has almost the same items, so it should be easier to figure out how they fit in certain areas as you go through more rooms. If anything, the game succeeded in reminding us that there’s nothing glamorous about moving and unpacking boxes. Realism.

Replay Value – 4

As mentioned, Unpacking only has eight levels and it can be finished in one sitting if you’re dedicated enough. However, it’s still worth creating a fresh save file for when you want to unwind. Who knows? Maybe you can also find better ways to organize and redecorate rooms with each playthrough.

Sound – 5

Please allow this writer to fangirl over Unpacking’s sound and music because Witch Beam Games really popped off with this one.

The soundtrack, from the menu to the gameplay, is both soothing and, again, nostalgic. There’s also a touching end-credit song titled “Unpacking a Life” that basically sums up the whole game and the player’s life story. We all have BAFTA-winning composer Jeff van Dyck to thank for this gem.

If you think that’s impressive, the studio also used 14,000 (!!!) audio files to replicate ordinary sounds. These include the sound of pens when you shake a pen holder, a plate when you place it atop a cupboard, and basically how certain items would sound if you place them on different surfaces like a wooden table or a bed. Just watch the clip below to see.

Heart – 5

Unpacking is an example of great storytelling without divulging too much. The most you’ll get is through the text written in the photo album, like moving into their college dorm, a partner’s home, and going back to their childhood home.

Their possessions also give subtle hints to what’s going on in the player’s life. Personally, I got affected by one level where they had to keep a photo in a drawer/cabinet instead of sticking it on a corkboard. Elements like this give you the freedom to piece the story together. Plus, it lets you experience the gratification of moving into a new home from your computer screen.

That’s the magic of Unpacking: Coming home and transforming a space into your own, whether it’s shared with someone or not.

Overall – 4.7 out of 5

The TGJ Game Review metric is divided into 5 categories, with each one having an individual score. The average of all these scores will determine the overall rating of the game. The criteria are as follows:

Visuals: This measures the game’s artistic, graphical, and visual design.

Mechanics: This measures the controls and other gameplay functions that can be performed.

Replay Value: This measures the fun factor of the game after multiple playthroughs.

Sound: This measures the game’s music, voice acting, and sound effects.

Heart: Each game has something that makes it feel like a special experience. This category measures what makes the game a great experience. These factors can include stories, community, and much more.

Jackie Arias (@bouvierx) is a writer who drinks copious amounts of coffee. Formerly a content creator for a lifestyle and feminist website, she is currently a PR person and occasional wrestling news and op-ed writer for Smark Henry. Her free days consist of video games, Netflix, and cat mom duties.

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