Unbox

EDGE - - GAMES -

PC

Dou­ble jumps? Pah. Triple jumps? Yes­ter­day’s news. Unbox’s con­tri­bu­tion to the plat­former is the sep­tu­ple jump, a thrilling, physics-de­fy­ing feat that lets you cross the kind of chasms that would make Mario gulp. Not a prob­lem for the New­bie, a sen­tient par­cel that can, af­ter a sin­gle leap, shed its outer card­board shell – or ‘unbox’ – for up to six mid­flight boosts: a press of the right trig­ger fol­lowed by as many squeezes of the left as you need to make a safe land­ing. Some­times, you’ll use it for ex­hil­a­rat­ingly swift tra­ver­sal. More of­ten, you’ll use it to re­cover from a fall, or to gain that bit of ex­tra height you need to get over an ob­sta­cle. The springy physics are al­most per­fect, giv­ing you just enough con­trol even as you hur­tle through the air at high speed.

In the game’s fic­tion, these self-de­liv­er­ing pack­ages are the fi­nal throw of the dice from the strug­gling Global Postal Ser­vice to save its busi­ness in the face of ag­gres­sive com­pe­ti­tion. It’s the kind of de­light­fully daft setup you’d ex­pect from a 1990s plat­former, and

Unbox’s mak­ers have a clear af­fec­tion for that era. Char­ac­ters com­mu­ni­cate in sub­ti­tled gib­ber­ish, puns and none-too-sub­tle ref­er­ences abound (the level hub is an off­shore rig called Other Base), and each world is stud­ded with col­lectibles. Your ri­vals are a group of card­board greasers whose leader will only con­sider you wor­thy of fight­ing once you’ve amassed a given num­ber of stamps, most of which are awarded for com­plet­ing chal­lenges set by your boxy friends.

The struc­ture, then, is very fa­mil­iar. Broadly speak­ing, the chal­lenges are, too. You’ll be asked to com­plete three laps of a race cir­cuit, trans­port a pack­age to a dis­tant col­league against the clock, and re­trieve sev­eral items from the lo­cal area while be­ing at­tacked by en­e­mies. Some of­fer neat twists on the for­mula: one de­liv­ery mis­sion has what seems to be an overly gen­er­ous timer un­til it’s re­vealed that you have to head back to the start to re­turn the favour, while an­other sees you drag a frozen ally across the map to thaw him out in a sauna. If you thought one box was hard enough to con­trol, try ma­noeu­vring two linked by a tether.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, you’ll be asked to fetch frag­ile ob­jects, dur­ing which you’ll be tem­po­rar­ily dis­al­lowed from us­ing your un­box­ing abil­ity. Pre­sum­ably, the aim was to echo the FLUDD-free stages in Su­per Mario Sun­shine, re­mov­ing the player’s safety net and forc­ing them to mas­ter their avatar’s ba­sic move set. In re­al­ity, though, New­bie’s move­ment physics are not as re­li­able as Mario’s, and that skit­tish­ness, com­bined with en­vi­ron­ment de­sign that tends to pri­ori­tise form over func­tion, leads to mo­ments of grind­ing frus­tra­tion. Prospect Games sen­si­bly at­tempts to mit­i­gate for these is­sues, al­low­ing you a sin­gle re­cov­ery skip off any body of wa­ter be­fore a fatal dunk, and of­ten re­mov­ing the timer so you can retry as many times as you like. But in these mo­ments a game that al­ready feels rick­ety, al­beit en­dear­ingly so, feels clod­dish and crude. Even with a hand­ful of check­points on the way up, one moun­tain­ous climb re­sulted in our tak­ing a long walk to calm down.

Ad­mit­tedly, our stub­born re­fusal to ac­cept de­feat was part of the prob­lem: you don’t need ev­ery stamp to move on from one world to the next. And be­sides, the mis­sions, while pleas­antly var­ied, are ar­guably a sec­ondary con­cern. Rather, it’s the sim­ple act of mov­ing around Unbox’s sprawl­ing en­vi­ron­ments that’s its trump card. You’re never quite in com­plete con­trol, but given the abil­ity to unbox – and with plen­ti­ful check­points and pick­ups en­sur­ing you rarely run out – that doesn’t mat­ter. In­stead, you can ca­reen about the place, blithely dis­re­gard­ing the fact you’re near the edge of a precipice. As soon as you fall, you’re one or two hops away from safety. That sense of wild, dizzy­ing mo­men­tum car­ries over into a messy mul­ti­player mode where up to four play­ers can leap around madly, blast­ing fire­works at one an­other. It may not be tidy, pol­ished or even par­tic­u­larly well de­signed, but it is dis­arm­ingly good fun. The level de­sign is sim­i­larly un­re­strained. These are some of the most ex­pan­sive play­grounds we’ve ever seen in a 3D plat­former. They might even be too big; cer­tainly, it’s hard to men­tally map these places in their en­tirety, and you’ll spend plenty of time dig­ging around ar­eas you’ve al­ready vis­ited. But they are joy­ously colour­ful, and stuffed with charm­ing visual flour­ishes, char­ac­ters to talk to, jeeps and to­bog­gans to drive. They don’t al­ways func­tion per­fectly as game en­vi­ron­ments – the cam­era can get stuck, as can you – but there are mo­ments of care­ful craft in ev­i­dence. Be­tween the peaks of a moun­tain re­sort, there’s a cable car sys­tem in dis­re­pair, with ve­hi­cles and scaf­fold­ing dan­gling pre­car­i­ously above a per­ilous drop. Cross­ing from one side to the other in­volves a bril­liantly tense bout of old­fash­ioned plat­form­ing; yes, you can unbox, but the gaps are wide enough to re­quire you to time them well, while some plat­forms dan­gle from wires, see­saw­ing dra­mat­i­cally as you touch down.

Else­where, an in­quis­i­tive eye is re­quired to tease out ev­ery one of the 200 rolls of golden tape scat­tered through­out each world, with some re­quir­ing dare­devil leaps to se­cure. Don’t worry too much if you’re not the col­lect­ing kind: these ob­jec­tives are op­tional, and your re­ward is merely an­other cos­metic ac­cou­trement. A shark’s fin, a curly mous­tache and a parka is all our New­bie needs, thanks. Such out­landish getups are all part of Unbox’s ir­re­sistibly child­like ap­proach to play, like a tod­dler un­wrap­ping an ex­pen­sive gift, toss­ing it aside and then spend­ing hours mess­ing about in­side its re­cep­ta­cle. You don’t have to look hard for more re­fined al­ter­na­tives, but some­times there’s noth­ing you’d rather do than play around with boxes.

The springy physics are al­most per­fect, giv­ing you just enough con­trol even as you hur­tle through the air at speed

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