There is a saying, “Everything that is old is new again”. This is something that indie games especially have tapped into with greater frequency over the past few years. While most retro-styled games have gone for aesthetics from 3rd and 4th generation console games, Unbox has opted for a style reminiscent of 5th generation console 3D platformers. Has Prospect Games delivered that retro 90s style with their first offering? Having been mostly pre-occupied in the latter part of the 90s with things like college, I missed out on a lot of the more popular titles from this genre the first go around. I may have been busy elsewhere, but this unfortunate lapse in gaming history was remedied at a later time.
3D platformers have always had some rather unique characters, from Crash Bandicoot to Banjo-Kazooie, the stories and the characters were always interesting. Unbox is no different in that regard. The main character is a sentient, self-delivering cardboard box. Your mission is to help save GPS (Global Postal Service) as you are the latest model and their last hope. Along the way, you will encounter the game’s baddies in the form of the Wild Cards. The Wild Cards are hell bent on stopping GPS and appear as a gang of 50s Greasers but in box form. There is also an ever-present Mystery Box that helps move the story along, but I don’t want to spoil anything, so we’ll leave it at that.
Unbox delivers its gameplay in the exact way you would expect a game from this era too. Each area has collectables, rolls of Golden Tape, scattered throughout the levels to pick up. Along with the tape rolls, hidden throughout the levels are journal entries from the Mystery Box. While completely optional, these will help give insight into exactly what is going on and who or what the Mystery Box is. On top of those 2, there are also various boxes who have become trapped in cages who you’ll want to free. While these items are good for general exploring, throughout each zone there are several boxes who offer up challenges to you.
The challenges are what make up a large chunk of the gameplay. They range from timed quests to retrieving items, defeating baddies, or completing harder platforming challenges to help out fellow boxes. The reward for completing a challenge is a stamp. Stamps are what move your progress along through the levels, and after collecting a certain number in a zone you can advance to the boss battle. The challenges I have encountered thus far have all been rather fun and interesting. The only downside is that if you are not acquainted with the map and where to find those who offer challenges, it may be a bit difficult to find them without ample exploring first. There certainly isn’t any hand-holding going on here. While there is a “guide” of sorts for the zone, he’ll tell you who gives challenges but doesn’t exactly tell you where to find them. Not an entirely bad thing as it does lead to more exploration, and along with the other collectables there are also some hidden stamps throughout that you can collect without having to finish challenges.
When it comes to controls, they are relatively simple. The obvious main action is to jump, but you can couple that with multiple jumps by “Unboxing”. Turns out your little sentient cardboard box doubles as a Matryoshka doll as well. As each time you unbox, you shed your outer box and become a bit smaller. You have a maximum of 6 unboxes at a time, and these can easily be replenished through health pick-ups and at checkpoints scattered about. The checkpoints do come in handy as if you ever get lost or stuck somewhere with no unboxes left, you can just deliver yourself back there. The other great part about the unbox mechanic is that it allows you to cover vast distances and heights, heck I even went for a ride on the wing of an aeroplane with it. Well, that reminds me, there are also vehicles you drive in as well in the zones which add all sorts of fun to the mix. It really has just about everything you could ask for.
The camera, which you rotate with the right stick of a controller, is nice and smooth, and I have yet to encounter any spots where I was completely unable to see where my character was. I’m especially grateful for this camera since it moves smoothly and at a good pace, as ones that move too fast do have the tendency to make me a bit queasy. My stomach and I are happy to report that there have been zero issues in that department. What’s left with the controls? Well, you do need a way to deal with those bad guys. There are two options, the first is always available and that is to smash down into the ground while in the air, also useful for pushing some buttons throughout. The second way is with some one-time use weapons, like fireworks for example. Both are easy to use, but be a bit mindful when using the smash as you will bounce back up off the ground, especially if you catch the corner of the box first. Just be prepared to manoeuvre some in the air if need be.
The graphics and sounds are really top notch. The look of the game is really elegant and just nails the esthetics from that era. If anything, they are probably a bit better than that era, which is not a bad thing. The sounds are great, the gibberish you hear coming from the boxes during dialogue will certainly take you back. The music does a wonderful job of yet again capturing that era of gaming, yet all the while doing a great job of setting the mood for the zones and being just all around enjoyable as well.
Developer: Prospect Games
Publisher: Prospect Games
Release Date: 5th September 2016