A lot of puzzle games involve finding the right place for things. In Tetris, you try to organize tetrominos to create perfect rows. In Puyo Puyo, you want the puyos to fall into the right places to trigger combos. Upon closer review, Unpacking is a game that is sort of similar, though the item placement involves no competition, no stress, and almost no worries about doing things “wrong.”
Here’s the part of the review where I’d typically talk about a title’s story and, while you’d think that wouldn’t be possible with a game about unpacking things, it is! There are no exact details about this person’s life. But there’s plenty of ambiance packed into each “level.” Unpacking’s “levels” are organized into years. Each one looks at a major move in the person’s life. Given the periods, it means we’re spying on their major life moments. The first involves the “main character” moving into a new home as a child in 1997. From there, we see all the milestones. Settling into a college dorm. Moving in with a roommate. Heading back home after a break-up. Getting a house.
Every time a move happens, there’s all this environmental storytelling. If you pay attention, you’ll see the person traveled. There are souvenirs for each location. You get an idea of what their jobs are over the years. We see their interests vary. A video game collection grows. But one of my favorite narrative elements came upon moving in with another person. The first fun bit is, because of the nature of the relationship, I wasn’t just able to move the main character’s items. I could suddenly move the belongings of the other person too. It was a little sad too, though. There’s one item that’d moved from place to place. It’d normally be hung on a wall. But… there was no wall space. I couldn’t make room. As I drafted an email to check with the developer to make sure it wasn’t a bug, I did one last sweep of the place. I saw somewhere it could be put, hidden away. It helped me come to a conclusion about the situation and make me feel for this person who I didn’t know. Not really. But I did know them, because I’d spent hours going through their stuff.
Yes, hours. One of my concerns with Unpacking is that it’d be a brief game that I’d play once for a review, then never return to. But there’s depth here. Turns out, unpacking someone can take time. Even if you “know” nobody will really live there and you’ll leave, you might want it to look perfect. So I’d make sure cups were on shelves with handles facing out. (You can rotate items before placing them.) I’d organize books so sketchbooks would go together. I’d try to arrange stuffed animals in fun ways. Not to mention I’d sometimes feel like I needed to go back to reorganize.
Speaking of reorganizing, there are collectibles. As you unpack, you can happen upon stickers. These act as decorations and something of achievements. Yes, you’ll get one for completing each move. But you can also trigger additional ones for placing items in certain ways. You can also see some different comments from the person in each “album” after every successful move. It’s a fun little reward for poking around.
Which you might do a lot of while playing. Unpacking looks incredible. The pixel art on display is top notch. The hit boxes are also pixel perfect, which helps with proper placement. Regardless of the size of the item, Witch Beam managed to make extremely accurate recreations of everything. I often found myself zooming in during Unpacking, just so I could more easily review each item I’d be moving. The only thing is, I sometimes encountered a bug that caused the text in menus to disappear.
It’s also fantastic to play on the PC. I can’t imagine playing Unpacking without a mouse. There’s so much detail here. You need the precision to perfectly organize things. It’s so handy to manage everything with a few clicks. As you might imagine, it’s also incredibly responsive. Soothing too. I really got into taking my time as I’d play. Yes, there are puzzle elements to it. You might happen across situations where you need to get everything into kitchen cabinets, but it seems impossible. While you can place things anywhere you want, there are unwritten guidelines for proper placement. Clothing has to go in closets, as you’d imagine. Some items belong in certain rooms. Toilet paper? Hang it in the holder. Fortunately, when that does happen, the room in question will be highlighted in red, as will the offending item that needs to be in a different spot. But really, it’s never too difficult to work out.
Unpacking is an incredibly chill game. It’s exactly what you want to play when you need to decompress. There’s a place for everything, and it’s up to you to put it in that place. There’s no rush. Enjoy looking at what the person accumulated. Think about what certain items mean. Hope that they find happiness in each new place. Then, if you feel like you need to calm down or want to enjoy the art again, head back and do things different next time.
Unpacking will come to the Nintendo Switch and PC on November 2, 2021.