Packing up, moving and unpacking things can be quite an emotional task. The process is not only very time-consuming but also stressful and it can keep you busy for quite a long time. What do I still need to pack up? Do I need to buy anything? Did I forget something? What do I throw away? There are a lot of questions you may ask yourself – but in today’s review, we’re taking a look at a title that is looking at it from a different angle. Unpacking is a cute little game about the familiar experience of pulling possessions out of boxes and fitting them into their new home. It’s about moving on and completing a chapter while also starting something new. It’s inspiring and somewhat motivating but more importantly, it’s incredibly relaxing and quite a lot of fun!
Developer: Witch Beam Publisher: Humble Games Genre: Indie, Atmospheric, Puzzle, Life Simulation, Point 'n Click? Release Date: November 2nd, 2021 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC (Win, Lin, Mac), Xbox One, Xbox Series, Switch Copy was played via Game Pass.
Now, I’ve only moved once so far in my life and it has been quite a busy time. Luckily, I was able to rely on my parents for the process but it was still quite the ordeal. Similarly, I will have to move out of the dorm in half a year and I’m already dreading that thought but it is what it is. Unpacking makes me look forward to the unpacking process, even though I know that it’s really not as calming IRL as it seems in this game. Throughout eight house moves, you’re given the chance to unpack your things and get to know this character that is moving here. It’s not “you” that is moving. It’s the protagonist and you get to know (presumably) her story and share a sense of intimacy by sorting and re-arranging her things into the apartment.
Unpacking doesn’t tell you a story and you never see a character of sorts. Instead, you meet that person that is moving through her things. You get to re-arrange her underwear, dresses, books, forks, plushies, and all sorts of other things, creating this sort of bond that is incredibly interesting. It’s some sort of environmental storytelling and I’m intrigued by how it was pulled off here. Yes, you can just go through the game and ignore everything, but I’d argue that the fun part of Unpacking is the idea that you get to know someone by going through their things.
Unpacking is less about arranging these things in “the right way” (with some exceptions) and more about what you connect with those things. These boxes are filled with memories and experiences. You may remember your first walkman or mp3 player when you see it in the game. You may see that one toy that this person seems to carry throughout the game. You may feel nostalgic thinking about certain toys, books, or things in Unpacking. Potentially, you’re also assuming something about this person here. Who are they? What do they work? Where are they from? What kind of interests do they have? You’ll find out about it through this game but a lot of questions remain open even after completing the game and I like that a lot. As a design direction this somewhat vague way of telling a story and introducing a character is something I adore. Leaving questions open is a design decision!
Meanwhile, the game is relatively simple in its art style with somewhat detailed pixel art, adorable animations, and a bunch of rather bright colours. You’ll see a bunch of rooms throughout your game and you may have to move from one room to another to find the right place for your spoons and panties. The background is kept monotone and simple with a checkered pattern so that it doesn’t take away too much from the main room that you’re currently “editing”. You may want to zoom in and out to get a better picture of everything but generally, you’ll be fine if you just keep it at the normal zoom levels. The most satisfying experience in this game, in my opinion, is the completion of one box. One box may contain a lot of things that have different places they need to be but regardless of that, the animation that plays when you fold it is incredibly satisfying and it fills my heart with joy. It feels as if I’ve accomplished something – which is a must-have for any simulation-type game, to be fair. Just the thing for someone like me who likes to procrastinate a lot.
The mellow and simplistic tunes that accompany the game enable the relaxing experience furthermore. While the soundtrack by Jeff van Dyck is simple and doesn’t stick out too much, it never overstays its welcome and works quite well for such a chill game. There are a lot of chill acoustic tracks but also some calming electronic sounds here and there and while you most likely won’t listen to the soundtrack, I must say that it is quite a good score and that it’s really fitting for the game.
Now, as for things I didn’t like, I’d have to say that I hate the fact that you can’t place stuff wherever you want. Yes, it makes sense that forks don’t belong in the bathroom or that you don’t place the Game Cube into the kitchen – but the issue with that is that some people just don’t recognize items in the game. I found this stick thing that I just placed on the fridge that I initially thought of as decoration. I have no clue what it is, though. Younger people may not recognize the GameCube. My mom probably won’t recognize the dumbling steamer there. This can lead to moments where you’re just confused as to where things go. Instead of just putting it down and moving on, the game keeps you there until you found the place it belongs to – which is a weird design decision. Heck, even a “hint” option to tell you what room something goes in, would have been a smarter move here. I don’t even know why the printer can’t just go on the ground but whatever.
Overall, though, Unpacking is great. It’s chill and calming and “zen”, I guess. I was able to procrastinate a lot with this game even when a single playthrough is relatively short at only two hours. You can still replay it and try to find new stickers and achievements. I really want to recommend this to anyone who’s looking for a chill experience that gets you through these busy days!