Unpacking Makes Tedium Comforting

The logo for Unpacking. A box full of packing material holds a box of crayons and a stuffed pig

I admit freely Unpacking has been my most anticipated game of the year. The cozy, chill vibes of the trailer hooked me instantly, and when the demo was available on Steam I played through it several times. So when Humble Games reached out to me with a key I was ecstatic. Made by Australian developer Witch Beam (Assault Android Cactus) and published by Humble Games, who have released some of my favourites in recent years: Carto, Forager, Wandersong and Slay The Spire.

Unpacking is quite literal: it’s a game about placing your belongings carefully into your childhood home, your college dorm, your new apartment. Each item can be picked up, rotated and placed in the spot you think suits it best. There are requirements but they are pretty broad: don’t put some stuff on the floor, make sure it’s in the correct room (i.e toothbrush in the bathroom). After you’ve placed everything a flashing border will appear on items that need to be moved before progressing. Usually, I only had 2 or 3 items that needed to be moved and were never an issue. When you’re dealing with multiple rooms, sometimes items get mixed up and placed in the wrong box, just like in real life. Switching rooms can be done with the shoulder buttons (console) or the icons on either side of the screen. Alternatively, a “floorplan” icon will be on the top bar and any room can be selected directly. The main menu and photo mode can be accessed here too (or selected with a hotkey).

A child's bedroom, with several boxes of belongings being unpacked
The childhood bedroom level

Photo mode brings even more personalization to the game with tons of gradients, borders and stickers to decorate and show off your layout. Stickers are unlocked as you progress through the game. Some have hidden requirements—try placing items next to each other and see what happens! I’m a firm believer in photo modes: add them to your games!

The sound design is wonderful and snappy. Placing on different surfaces makes a fitting noise for the material. For example, putting a plate on a table VS stacking it on other plates. Stacked items can be moved as one unit. Posters are either rolled up or displayed on the walls. Clothing can be either folded and put into drawers or placed on hangers. Don’t forget to close the drawers before closing the closet door—or else it will get stuck! I laughed the first time this happened. It’s cool seeing how the objects interact with each other when the general idea is that pixel-art games are “flat”. You can even put items under your pillow! I placed an MP3 player there because that’s what I did when I was younger. It’s very nostalgic and comforting. The character must be around my age (early 30s) because the times match up to things from when I was a teen. It really brought back a lot of memories.

Our belongings tell a story. What items the unseen protagonist takes with her to college clearly have sentimental value. Plushies that have followed her through the many moves now have wear-and-tear, and a budding collection of world landmarks (The Tower of Pisa, Dutch windmill) has grown to need its own shelf. There is a story here, told through the environment and objects. I don’t want to spoil anything but I found this really engaging with very little dialogue. A sentence here and thereafter a level completes is about all you get. But you can tell what’s happening in her life, and filling in the blanks and coming up with details while you sort through boxes is rewarding. Games don’t need to tell you what’s happening for you to pick up the narrative. 

a kitchen table is covered in paper and toys. several stickers have been overlayed
An example of photo mode with stickers and effects

The video games and toys fit the year of each level. 1997 has virtual pets, a GameBoy and Rubix cube. The early 2000s have a suspiciously cube-shaped console and if you look closely you might recognize some of the box art! The level of detail in these tiny pixelated rooms is incredible. Don’t forget to zoom in and out to check every inch. Since I played the Nintendo Switch version, using the touchscreen was also an option. Tapping an item lets you spin it and the menu icons are all easy to use with a finger or stylus.

Many times I decided “oh, actually that works better over here!” and moved everything around. Toothbrushes on the counter? What about placed in a cup? Should I set the table or put all the dishes away? How will I organize my bookshelf? These little choices are fun and make your playthrough unique. You could redo a level and have a completely different layout if you want! I will definitely be replaying and trying things out. 

For accessibility options, the font size can be increased, the item highlight colour can be changed (default is red) and you can “Allow Items Anywhere” if that fits your style more.

This is a deeply relaxing game. Like a bowl of warm soup or a pair of fuzzy socks, it just makes you feel happy. If you need to unwind at the end of the day, why not try Unpacking some boxes. I promise it’s not as boring as it sounds.

Unpacking is now available on PC (Steam and the Humble Store), Nintendo Switch, & Xbox One. 

A Nintendo Switch key of Unpacking was provided for review purposes.

Written by Lor Gislason

Lor is the resident Indie Game Outreach Expert (patent pending) of 25YL Gaming who will talk your ear off about Wholesome games and Roguelites.

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