3D Platformer collect ‘em ups were the big thing in the 90’s. Mario, Banjo, Spyro, Croc… they were everywhere, with a variety of gubbins to collect. Stars, coins, jigsaw pieces, bananas, you name it, you collected it. And you know what? You had fun doing it too. Hours upon hours were spent traversing the various worlds, unlocking more as you went, and if you decided to go for 100%, you could be going for months. This time was probably the heyday of the 3D platformer, and has unfortunately not been recreated since.
There were a few attempts over the next few generations, but it was not until the last few years that this genre made a bit of a comeback. Yooka Laylee made an impact (whether good or bad is down to you; it did split the community somewhat, but I enjoyed it), Snake Pass proved that there were still new ideas to be brought to the genre, and the game we are talking about here, Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure, proves that there is still much fun to be had here.
Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure, by Prospect Games, originally came out in September 2016 on PC, bringing with it a cheerful world inhabited by sentient cardboard boxes. Yes, it sounds nuts, but stick with me here. So, the story is that the Global Postal Service, to try and stave off bankruptcy, have created an army of self delivering boxes. However, it would seem that a certain segment of the Boxy creatures have gone rogue and built their own faction: The Dastardly Wildcards, led by the Cardboard Colossus Boss Wild. It’s a bit of an ‘out there’ story, to be sure, but one that keeps the anything goes attitude that the genre has always had. The game made its console debut in July 2017 on the PS4 and Xbox One and finally, on October 10th 2017, made its (sometimes) portable debut on the Switch, which I am looking at here.
Unbox also brings a new feature to the table, and that is physics. This can be a bit of a double edged sword. The controls have you rolling Newbie around the map and jumping over obstacles. However, as you probably already know, cubes do not roll very well. At first, this can be a bit frustrating, as you find Newbie rebounding in the wrong direction, or struggling to roll up a hill, and even making it through the tutorial area can be tricky. But as soon as you enter the first world and start bouncing around, this frustration quickly clears and you begin enjoying the movement. ZR jumps, and ZL is your double jump. But calling it a jump it doing it a disservice, and is the move the game is named after — Unbox.
(On a side note, whether portable, or docked, I usually play the switch with an 8Bitdo Nes30pro controller, but due to the heavy use of the triggers in this game, I found this hard to use, so have been using the joycons for this game, as it’s much more comfortable. Not a slight on the game at all, but just a warning if you too use these controllers.)
Newbie (and the other boxes in the world, presumably — the only other Box we see with the ability is Boss Wild) is actually made from six layers of boxes and while jumping, you can use ZL to ‘jump’ out of the outer layer of the box up to six times, enabling you to either scale impressive heights, jump stupidly long distances or, more likely, save yourself if you miss a tricky jump. At first this may seem a bit overpowered, but this is balanced by the fact that you may have to use all of the jumps to get to a specific area, and that route will be totally devoid of recharge pickups. You can replenish the ability by collecting little green rotating boxes strewn around the worlds.
These layers also work as an energy system and getting hit by wild cards, set on fire and hit by a rocket or various other hazards will take a layer from yourself. Another thing you can do while jumping, and your only always-available attack, is the slam. Pressing B midair will send you slamming into the ground, sending any nearby enemies flying. You will also get one-off weapons to use in the form of pickups like the rocket launcher, which will lock onto nearby enemies automatically and is shot with a single press, not breaking the flow of the game.
There are only three main worlds in Unbox, but also quite a large Hubworld, which is the Global Postal Service headquarters and pretty much a whole other world in itself, but they are some of the largest worlds seen in the genre and there is plenty to find. The main things to find are the stamps, which makes sense as you work for a delivery service, and these are the key to unlocking the later worlds. Stamps are gathered by either simply finding them in the worlds, being given to you by other boxes, or by performing various tasks and challenges.
These tasks are massively varied and run the gamut from delivering items to other boxes, saving the Zippies (the first sentient boxes who have been captured by the Wildcards) or even taking part in races. Many of these tasks are even broken up into multiple sections, such as having to find and use four switches, and you would be teleported to the beginning of each small section as you choose them. This way, you can choose the order in which you do a lot of the tasks, giving the game a much more open feel. A lot of these challenges also unlock different ‘parts’ to customise your box in many, many ways.
As it’s a collect ‘em up, the stamps are not all that there is to collect. Each level, including the Hubworld, has two hundred rolls of gold packing tape to collect and some of these are in VERY tricky places,often hidden in buildings, of which the switch to open may be on the other side of the world. There are also more trapped Zippies in cages around the lands to find, usually guarded by a number of Wildcards, or in rather precarious positions. Getting 100% in this game is going to take a while, and be rather hard to boot.
Now I played a little bit of this game back when it came out on PC, but was rather excited to get the game on the Switch, as it seemed like a great fit for Nintendo’s little console that could. And generally speaking, it does indeed work great. Seeing as it’s not a greatly realistic game and is very colourful and cartoonish, I expected to see no difference from the PC version, except maybe the resolution (I have not played this game docked, so am referring to portable mode only here). There does seem to be a bit of an issue with the anisotropic filtering kicking in very close to the player character, and this is seen most on the road in the first world, with the central line of the road becoming less detailed VERY close, and gradually tapering off and getting less defined the further back it goes. The whole game can also seem rather low res at times. I am not sure if this is dynamic, as I don’t notice it all the time, but sometimes, it does seem rather blurry, and jagged edges can get quite prominent. The only other issue I have noticed is that the music seems to distort and loop occasionally during loading screens, but this is just a small niggle.
Overall though, this is a great portable experience, and a great addition to the Switch lineup. If you loved the great 90’s platformers, you will enjoy this game.