The year of 2017 has been fantastic for 3D platforming fans so far. Despite not considering much of a revival (3D platformers have always been around, people just weren’t paying attention to them), I can’t deny the fact they made a comeback to the mainstream with titles such as Yooka-Laylee, Super Mario Odyssey, Skylar & Plux and Poi; all great games in their own right. Another title from this genre that was recently released for the Switch (as well as other platforms earlier on) is Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure, a 3D platformer starring . . . a box.
Unbox, at its core, is a very traditional 3D collectathon game. You know the basics: explore huge worlds, find puzzles and/or NPCs, solve the puzzles and/or whatever the NPC wants you to do, collect a McGuffin, repeat until you collect enough McGuffins (this time around, stamps) to fight a boss and proceed to the next stage. Your main box doesn’t have a big moveset (you’re a box, duh). You roll around, jump, ground pound, and unbox yourself in order to double, triple, quadruple or quintuple jump around, taking damage while doing so. There’s just so much you can make a box do, afterall.
Let me start listing the positives. I was impressed with the size of the levels and the amount of things to do in them. Unbox only features four stages, but they are as big as your typical Mario Odyssey stage, even though grabbing stamps isn’t as simple as grabbing a Moon in Mario’s new outing. There are more logistics and challenges involved, reminding me of Banjo-Tooie. Other aspects worth praising are the colorful visuals and the fact the game features a decent soundtrack. Sadly, that’s where we stop.
Unbox has quite a fair share of issues, one of them being the controls. As previously mentioned, you’re a box, and you move like a box. Rolling around isn’t exactly the smoothest movement due to the obvious fact you’re not spherical in shape, so even simple tasks such as climbing a small staircase can become unnecessarily complicated. Another problem lies in the game’s platforming. Your box jumps extremely high and has a lot of momentum. The game has tons of sections which require very precise platforming, but your jumping mechanics (including your multiple unboxing jumps), coupled with an unreliable camera, make this a much bigger challenge than it should.
The main issue, however, is the framerate. I have not played other ports, so I can’t actually compare this version to them, but I doubt they ran as inconsistently as this. Unbox would rarely run at more than 20 frames per second, constantly dropping to Nintendo 64 levels of framerates. Add the fact the game has awkward controls and that it prioritizes extremely precise platforming, and you have a recipe for a huge headache. Controlling a box isn’t exactly the most appealing elevator pitch ever created, so the game really needed tight gameplay and performance in order to stand out. That’s definitely not the case, though.
There have been lots of good 3D platformers this year, but I find it really hard to recommend Unbox to fans of the genre, at least when it comes to the Switch version. It’s not visually appealing, its framerate is all over the place and its controls are too wonky for the precise platforming the game requires you to master. Besides this, there’s also the fact Super Mario Odyssey is a thing. It’s pretty hard to recommend Unbox when I can play as a moustached T-rex, don’t you think?
Also available on: PS4, PC, Xbox One
Copy of Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure provided by publisher