Platforming games have almost come full circle since the days of lightning fast hedgehogs and mushroom chomping plumbers. What was once the genre of choice for showing off new graphics and gameplay mechanics, has now reinvented itself for modern times as a vehicle for travelling down memory lane. But while these little nostalgic trips are welcoming in small doses, as Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure proves, they also prove that there’s little room for this genre to grow.
Developed by Manchester-based development outfit Prospect Games, Unbox puts players in the sellotaped guise of Newbie, sentient, self-delivering cardboard box created by the Global Postal Service. By completing challenges across three open worlds and defeating Boss Wild and his Wild Card minions, Newbie must prove that he has what it takes to survive the fast-paced world of postal delivery and save the GPS from the financial difficulties it now finds itself in.
Innocent and cute right down to its core, Unbox features a campaign full of charming characters that make no apologies for bringing some childish humour and pop culture references to the table. But while it’s commendable that Prospect have managed to create a surprisingly in-depth backstory for their loveable cardboard box characters and the space they inhabit, the plot acts as little more than wrapping paper around the vibrant, colourful world that lies within.
Surprisingly bereft of personality, a voice, or even a face is our playable character, Newbie. He’s somewhat of a blank slate compared to the rest of the NPCs that are scattered throughout the game. However, what Newbie lacks in charisma, they make up for with speed and jumping power. The ability to unbox oneself translates into a sextuple jump for the player, giving Newbie the propulsion to travel across large distances relatively quickly – a vital tool when navigating across the large open areas that make up the game’s play space.
Gameplay takes place across three open levels for the player to explore however they wish. With plenty of moving platforms, tight ledges and narrow paths to navigate, Unbox features all the usual genre tropes when it comes to level design. However, given that Newbie is a cardboard box, running is substituted with rolling, making precisely timed landings and careful movement a much more difficult affair altogether. Over-egging your jumps and rolls could see your trusty box hurtle over the desired destination and straight into the sea. In terms of the control system, Unbox has more in common with the Katamari games than it does with Crash Bandicoot.
It’s surprising and somewhat baffling that vehicles have also been included in the game. Hopping into the driver’s seat of a 4×4 or a forklift truck may seem like a fun idea on paper, but compared to Newbie’s unboxing ability, these inclusions just seem like pointless distractions and serve little purpose other than for the occasional side quest. What’s more, the controlling of these vehicles is downright difficult, making the game’s main movement mechanics feel like an absolute dream in comparison.
Scattered around each level are a number of collectables, such as stamps, golden rolls of tape, and imprisoned boxy friends. Clearly drawing inspiration from the likes of Banjo Kazooie and Super Mario 64, Unbox positions some of these items in some of the most dangerous and awkward corners of an impressively large and detailed map, meaning that, when combined with the unforgiving control scheme, earning 100% completion in this treasure hunt is anything but a simple task.
While the tropical Paradise Isles are a treat to explore in the beginning of the game, by the time you unlock the later levels of the game, it all feels too familiar. The game does attempt to add some inventive ways to hide stamps and golden tapes, but with no map and only a handful of clues from NPCs at your disposal, it’s easier to give up and move on with the campaign rather than put yourself through the ringer for the sake of a extra collectibles on your score sheet.
Thankfully, you can progress through the main campaign swiftly by picking up the bare essentials and there are a number of challenges scattered around the map to help you on your way. Dished out by your fellow cardboard chums, these tasks come on the form of puzzle solving, time trials, platforming challenges and arena brawls to name but a few mission types. Completing these missions will reward you with stamps that in turn can be exchanged for a crack at the level’s boss and potential progression to the next map
As refreshing as these side quests are amidst the treasure hunt that is the main game, their quick nature and relatively low difficulty highlight the bigger problems in the game. Relying too heavily on the open world scenario, at times Unbox feels like a wild goose chase, particularly when going back to find missed items. There’s some replayability in terms of unlocking new costumes for your box and the usual assortment of achievements, but beyond that there’s little incentive to return once the main campaign has been done and dusted.
The multiplayer mode brings more of the same by rehashing the mission types seen in the campaign challenges for up to four players. These mini games including checkpoint-driven racing, timed collection quests and firework shooting battle royales provided some entertainment, despite the fact we have seen it all before. It is rare we see games of this genre come packaged with any sort of multiplayer mode so to see Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure bring a variety of options to the table is a commendable effort, even if the appeal is rather limited.
Overall, Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure feels like a game falling apart under it’s own ambition. The lush open worlds, quirky backdrop and variety in gameplay seem inviting at first glance, but the hunt for collectibles and simplistic mission types become repetitive all too quickly. Despite brimming with enthusiasm in the hopes that it will carve a name for itself within a genre that seems to have gone full circle,the game arguably works best when it’s evoking nostalgic memories of platformers that have come before. The problem with that is you can’t help but feel like you’d rather be playing Super Mario or Crash Bandicoot instead.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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