You know you’re in for something special when a game about unpacking boxes becomes a hit sensation. Unpacking received glowing reviews and became a new indie darling. Its developers even had to deal with cheap, mobile imitators copying their game; the ultimate honor in game development.
So is Unpacking as simple as it sounds? Yes.
All you do in this game is unpacking boxes. Its narrative follows an unnamed character who, over the years, frequently moves into new places. Each level chronicles a new stage of their life and a new place of residence that you need to fit all of your stuff into.
You open up the boxes, click on them to grab items, and then place them somewhere in your room. As the game goes on you get more rooms that you need to take care of, more stuff, or you might have to deal with room-mates who have already claimed a lot of the space. The fun in this mainly lies in the zen activity of decorating rooms and making them your own. To that end, Unpacking has a lot of leeway for letting you express yourself.
The pixelart aesthetic is well-done. It’s cute, detailed, and plenty colorful. A lot of the game’s story is actually tucked away in the art and music. There’s a few lines of text between chapters, but for the most part you infer what the story is about by seeing what kind of places you move to, what items your character keeps with them, and how those change as the years go by. At 3 hours it’s short and you shouldn’t expect an epic narrative, but seeing how Unpacking marries its unique gameplay concept with its storytelling is an amazing achievement by developer Witch Beam.
I am only left with two minor complaints towards the game. Firstly, its pixelart is nice, but it isn’t always entirely clear what some packaged objects are meant to be, in turn making it difficult to guess where they should logically go. Secondly, to prevent players from ruining their own experience, there are some guidelines for where items must go. You can’t just toss all your books on the floor to speedrun the game, so to say.
However, these restrictions are often unclear and too specific. This means that most levels end with you going from room-to-room for a few minutes, desperately trying to figure out where the game will let you put a specific object.
That’s it really. The game is so pure, so true to its one concept, I can’t help but admire it. It may be short and that 20 euro entry price can seem steep, but in return you get an amazing little experience. Even at full price, I can recommend it to people who enjoy games where the story relies on your own theorizing and analysis, or those who just want to chill with a cute-looking zen game.