The six-person Australia-based development studio Witch Beam couldn’t have created two more wildly different games for their portfolio, with Assault Android Cactus being a frantic twin-stick shooter and Unpacking serving as a zen-like pixel art game that’s literally about unpacking boxes and finding places to put its contents. With both games being pretty damn stellar, I’m eager to see what they’re up to next — which appears to be something called TemPoPo.
Unpacking released today on various platforms, but I played through it (to 1000G, 100% completion) on Xbox Series X through Game Pass. It’s a very brief two-hour experience and is well worth everyone’s time, even if it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea.
Unpacking initially plays out as a more relaxed puzzle game, one where you’re presented with a room and a stack of boxes full of stuff that needs to be placed somewhere. It starts in 1994 and gradually progresses through the years, up until 2018. Each move presents more places to put things, more boxes to unpack, but it’s always relaxing. There are no timers, no leaderboards. It’s just you putting stuff in its place.
As the years go on you start to notice some of the same items popping up, which was the big “ah-ha!” moment for me. I was getting a pretty close look into someone’s life, their memories, their relationships, just by putting stuff away, and it all felt deeply personal and relatable. I didn’t expect to connect to a game about putting stuff away so much.
There’s no story openly told to the player, but plenty to pick up on just based on what you’re putting away and what your living situation is.
Putting stuff away is easy: you click on a box to grab an item (which you can’t see ahead of time), then find places to put it. You can’t just pile everything on the bed and move on, though. Some items have specific places they need to be, so for example, you can’t put a microwave in the bathroom. I mean, there is an accessibility toggle you can turn on that lets you do that, but by default, it’s a big no-no.
Things do get a little more advanced as the game goes on, but it’s never more than having to unpack certain boxes to reveal more of the room (see the image I embedded below, for example) or moving things around that were already there when you started. It’s calm and relaxing.
Certain things like towels, dishes, folded clothing, and cookie sheets can be stacked, but others are a bit more awkward to place, like frying pans (that never seem to center on the stovetop). Using a controller does make it a bit weird when putting items in far-back corners inside of cabinets, but I always had room for things. There’s a zoom function too, which always fixed the issue.
It only took me about two hours to play through and another 5 minutes or so to go back through the chapter select menu to mop up the remaining achievements, so it’s not a game that demands much of your time. It’s just super effective at what it does in those 120 minutes. I live for these shorter games that pack a punch.
I do wish there was more music or at least more memorable music. Unpacking has such a great isometric style with drop-dead gorgeous pixel art, but even finishing it earlier today I can’t recall a single track that played in the background. Maybe I just need to give the soundtrack itself a listen?
Overall, though, Unpacking is absolutely wonderful, relaxing, and surprisingly emotional. It’s one of the most unique offerings on Game Pass and a strong contender for my Top 5 games of 2021 so far.
Unpacking was released on November 2, 2021, on Xbox, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam, Humble, and GOG. The current price is $19.99 and it is available on Xbox Game Pass as of the time of this review.