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Unpacking Review (Switch eShop) | Nintendo life

Video games: pure escapism. Experience extreme, often immoral, experiences that you would never dare to have in real life: stealing a car, murdering hundreds of people, growing a mustache, and stamping turtles to death. But unpacking is the beginning: How would it feel to have your cutlery in the second drawer down? Yes, a trip into the mind of a psychopath – depending on how you play it, of course.

If you’re a kind-hearted, normal person who keeps your cleaning supplies properly under the sink and your toaster on the countertop, unpacking is a peaceful, meditative game. Presented with a few living rooms and a few boxes, you unpack personal items and arrange them in the apartment as you wish. Each scenario represents a move at a different point in the main character’s life, starting with furnishing their own bedroom in the family home.

A story unfolds entirely through this gameplay, with no access to the protagonist except through their belongings, which have changed over the years, and offers a poignant glimpse into the real constants in a life – the things that are most important to us and the things that matter most to us and the things we just never get around to changing. Moving is an emotional, hopeful, and perhaps traumatic experience that provides perfect story beats for that invisible person’s biography.

The practicalities of this process include moving a cursor to click a box and remove an item. The items come out in a given order and each must be placed somewhere before another can be taken. This leads to very natural approaches such as putting everything on the bed and deciding how to organize it or, if you’re not ashamed, just cram unsurpassed shoes under a shelf when they show up.

Of course, this interaction calls for a mouse, but instead of just letting the Switch version stumble in the shadow of the PC, Humble Games and developer Witch Beam went the extra mile to get the controls working. Thumbstick controls provide helpful settings for cursor speed and right and left stick switching, handheld players can use the touchscreen directly, and with separate Joy-Cons there is the option for Wii-like motion controls with intuitive pointing. The implementation is anything but lazy and pays off with great usability. HD Rumble is also well thought-out and leaves you longing for the tangible pleasure of folding up every finished box.

The joy of doing these basic actions is mainly powered by the wonderful sound design that makes any element a deliciously tactile thing when you bond it to the surface you place it on. The inherent intimacy of putting together toiletries and underwear is made incredibly personal by the feel of the items you get to know after unpacking and arranging them several times. Hence, it is impossible not to work with care and respect in a game format that could so easily become clinical if it were constrained by puzzles or clothed beep-boop Video game isms.

Unpacking, however, is absolutely a video game that uses some established game design ideas to get the player involved in the action. Just like a platform game, for example, teaches basic skills and then challenges you to use them in new scenarios, unpacking teaches what type of room an item fits in and then changes the rooms on offer in the next new home. The challenge only increases as certain collections of items grow over the years, which means it suddenly seems messy to keep them all in one corner of a desk, or to need two shelves instead of one. None of this is delimited by rules, achievement or failure conditions, all is imposed by the player himself, driven by a desire to respect this person whose life you have set back over the years through their private ups and downs.

These mechanical considerations are all applied in order for the peaceful sandbox to function effectively. It’s almost a non-game designed with an intuitive understanding of games. The goal is clear – unpack all the boxes – but instead of having the opportunity to score points and strive for an S rank, it just gives the gameplay a sense of purpose so that there is a sense of direction. Sometimes an item gets put in a box for the wrong room, but instead of throwing a curveball to test your sanity, it just nudges you to move around and consider other rooms, which is a purely routine, space- discouraged for-space approach that may remain dull. It takes effective video game tricks and something more subtle than a shooter, but punchier than a meandering indie think-em-up.

Unpacking’s approach to environmental storytelling is fascinating. Where a walking sim would let you discover and experience a carefully prepared scene, build the scene here yourself by actively sensing the nature of that person’s life story and instilling it with your own care and intent. Nonetheless, the story is written and controlled by the developer. The plot is simple, but it affects the experience.


Unpacking manages to do several things very well at the same time. It is a touching story that is told through interaction, it offers the creative scope of a great dollhouse game and cleverly implements established game design ideas from completely different genres. Its only real flaw is repetition, which is a necessary by-product of landing its message. Efforts have been made to make the controls on Switch satisfactory and the visual and sound design is consistently delightful, which makes the unbox, like any reasonable person’s cutlery, absolutely top notch.

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