Special delivery: a soggy, banged-up, bouncing cardboard box
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Move over, Amazon drones. Unbox’s Global Postal Service would like to present the real next-gen of shipping solutions: the self-delivering box. You’re the latest prototype of this revolutionary endeavour, a cardboard cube capable of self-propelled motion. You bobble along awkwardly, but at a surprising lick, and are blessed with surprising agility for an object that’s all straight edges and sharp corners. You can jump with a tap of the right trigger, and with a squeeze of the left one you’ll perform the titular ‘unbox’, shedding an outer skin for a burst of mid-air momentum in what is surely the most oddly conceived double-jump in videogame history. Or hextuple jump, if you’re so minded.
The unbox can be performed six times before your supply runs dry, and provided you’ve built up enough speed before setting off you can comfortably traverse the lengthy expanses of water between islands in the first of Unbox’s worlds, Paradise Islands. Your stocks can be topped up with health pickups, or replenished at one of the generously spaced post-box checkpoints, but in between this is a game of careful management of your supplies. Your only offensive manoeuvre is a ground pound, which stuns enemies; when properly placed it can knock aggressors off platforms or into the sea. But largely this is a game of escaping trouble, rather than dispatching it.
Unless a mission demands otherwise, anyway. One endows you with a homing firework launcher with a pleasingly generous auto-aim, asking you to take out rooftop snipers within a time limit. Others are more traditional 3D-platformer fare, and are oddly satisfying despite the potential for frustration inherent in building a platform game around a cardboard box with exaggerated real-world physics. It’s a zippy, unruly thing, certainly, but it’s tremendously responsive, and there’s a silly little thrill in arresting momentum just in time before your avatar drops into what would, for a cardboard box, be a fatal swim in the crystal-blue sea. And throughout, the multi-jump mechanic has you thinking about the space around you in intriguing ways. One quest-giver asks you to trek to the top of a high tower. Following the path means navigating a tricky sequence of obstacles – how many of them could you bypass by simply unbox-jumping up the side?
Fourplayer splitscreen multiplayer sports a similarly novel spin on conventions. It’s a pacy, madcap blend of racing, platforming and shooting with playful, slippery physics and wanton environmental destruction. Modern standards dictate that Unbox’s multiplayer mode should be online-enabled. However, Manchester studio Prospect Games is staying true to its roots and, currently at least, is limiting the game’s multiplayer component to players in the same room. Yet for all the nods to the past, Unbox feels oddly new – and for more than just its Unreal-powered physics. While it’s far from the first contemporary indie game to take its inspiration from the golden age of 3D platformers and fourplayer splitscreen, the pleasures of its novel take on the genre conventions of player movement, and the slapstick comedy of its physics, mean this is no mere callback to its developers’ childhoods. Yes, there are nods to the likes of Katamari Damacy, Super Monkey Ball and any number of 3D Mario games, but Unbox has an identity all of its own – and it’s rather more appealing than its drab cardboard exterior would have you believe. While the state of the parcel’s contents may lead the recipient to question the merits of a self-delivering cardboard box, the game itself is in fine shape.
It’s rather more appealing than its cardboard exterior would have you believe