Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review: UNBOX - Newbie's Adventure


When I encounter a game like UNBOX - Newbie’s Adventure it can be a difficult process to figure out how to review it. Right from the get-go it just felt like something wasn’t quite right with it so I spent the next few hours playing it trying to get my arms around the problems I was seeing. There’s a rough and almost unfinished quality to it, though no doubt the partial defense of this would be “but you’re controlling a box” and I suppose that’s valid to a degree but I’m also not positive the best defense to bad mechanics is to treat it as if they’re by design. There are some redeeming qualities that the game has but in order to enjoy them you’re going to have to buckle up and accept and even embrace the, at times, wonky nature of it all.

Starting with how the game looks there’s just something off about it. Strangely I’d say that the game looks best in handheld mode as the scale helps to hide the shifting quality of the textures around you that are very visible in spots. In docked mode it is almost impossible to miss the lines where the quality of the textures go from good in your immediate vicinity to degraded a few feet away and sometimes you can see further lines as well. I note this mainly because it’s something I’ve not seen in games in over a generation in general so it’s almost impossible to miss and immediately gives UNBOX a somewhat half-baked quality. In general there’s just a last-gen feeling to the title in terms of graphics like it was up-ported but isn’t really taking advantage of the Switch’s power.


If my roblems with the game stopped there it would perhaps wouldn’t be so bad but I have real issues with the control in the game. I get it, you’re controlling a box. If you literally rolled a box around it would move somewhat unevenly as it went over its edges and in the gaps you wouldn’t have contact or grip. Yes, that’s interesting as an idea and perhaps a bit humorous but it sucks in a platforming game where you need precision. What’s worse is that when you’re in the air the precision isn’t quite there either, movement is pretty unwieldy as well, especially when you use your “unbox” ability to perform additional jumps. It just seems that rather than setting up well-designed levels with jumping puzzles that would test your precision and execution the answer was to set up mostly mundane jumping puzzles that combined with the dodgy controls would simply test your patience. This isn’t to say that it can’t be overcome, it will only take a few attempts most of the time to get through things. Just unfortunately when you’re fighting the wonky controls accomplishing these tasks doesn’t often feel rewarding as much as just a relief, which isn’t nearly as great a sensation.

If you’re still hanging on at this point the style of the game is a platforming adventure at the high level but it’s also a bit of a collect-a-thon set in very open spaces. The lack of a set and specific path I suppose is nice but the game design seems to acknowledge the problem that lack of direction created by setting up controls to find where to even get your quests to accumulate the stamps you need to progress. Without these I think you could probably go quite a while and not stumble onto them since the areas are quite large. Quests will generally involve platforming tasks and a few will blend in the inclusion of your use of the fireworks that are used in the game’s fun but overall forgettable multiplayer mode. Once you gather enough of the stamps you’ll get into a boss fight and move on to the next stage to repeat the process again in a new environment. In the first boss battle I was surprised to see a timer and that when I got knocked off the tower we were fighting on I would just respawn without seeming to have lost any progress. This made it seem like an admission that the whole thing is a bit off but with so much time and little consequence to failure defeating him could probably happen without the person even knowing what they were doing, especially given the fact that the boss harmed himself at least twice for me without me doing anything special at all.


What’s strange with UNBOX is that with the somewhat unfinished feel of some elements of the game I often wondered if it was intended to be a “physics game” along the lines of Goat Simulator and others where the intent is to have a weird feel to everything. If that were the case, though, the other essential part of that genre is a degree of humor and over-the-top ridiculousness to help compensate for the many shortcomings the game has otherwise. Since it is pretty well played straight throughout (random bad jokes involving boxes not counting) I don’t think that was the intent here so it brings me back to feeling like the game combined a not-great concept for making a viable and fun platformer with too little time spent to make the game the best it could, smoothing the rough edges that would come with a game where you’re moving a box around and trying to make precision jumps with it.

Score: 5

Pros:
  • The multiplayer mode is fun to kick around with for a little bit but it is an add-on and not the main feature
  • You can see some of the design and thoughts trying to break through in places

Cons:
  • Some visual issues at times make it feel like a last-gen game
  • The control is a consistent annoyance when paired with precision jumping
  • Tasks like freeing caged boxes don’t often give any reward whatsoever, even their tips for how to defeat your enemies they promise are often pointless. This feels like a partial concept that was never finished
  • From appearance to control to overall gameplay experience it feels more like an Early Access game than a finished retail product
  • The MSRP when considering all of the above is far too high, physical release or not


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