Unpacking is a zen puzzle game in which players are tasked to, you know, unpack. The game narrative follows an unnamed character that players help to unpack for between the years 1995 to 2015. While unpacking for various house moves, the player learns of clues about the character’s life story. For a game with no dialogue and little to no words used, it is impressive to be able to craft a character’s personality through unpacking boxes. It is no wonder the game is also a finalist of several categories for the Independent Games Festival 2022, including Excellence in Design, Excellence in Narrative and Excellence in Audio.
The Elemental Tetrad
Unpacking is essentially a simple game to play in terms of mechanics as it mainly involves using the mouse to point and click to move items to places you want. The game starts off small in a child’s room which allows the player to adapt to the game mechanics before slowly moving to larger living spaces which are larger puzzles to solve.
There are no time pressures while playing the game as there are no countdown timers, so the players can have a easy and relaxing time playing the game.
The storytelling in Unpacking is a very interesting element they have. Instead of specific dialogue happening in-game, the players are given hints in the form of items present in each level when they unpack the boxes. Players can identify what are the items that were brought over from the character’s previous house to their new house, and what are the items that are new to the story.
Unpacking allows players to unpack not just boxes, but eventually the life story about the character in the game.
The game uses an isometric, pixel art aesthetic, coupled with satisfying sounds when interacting with different objects. The game soundtracks and sound effects add to the relaxing experience for players. The game sound design includes over 14,000 foley effects, with multiple pick-up and placement sound effects unique to each item.
Unpacking supports gameplay on Xbox, Nintendo Switch and PC.
The Lens of Emotions
With the gameplay centered around the character’s life progression, the player is influenced to be attached to the story and changes while the game progresses. This captivates the player to continue playing the game to discover what comes next and leaves the player wanting more.
Besides the usual gameplay, the game also provides an option for the player to review their whole attempt at the end of the round. The player is given a fast forward clip of their whole attempt when unpacking the boxes, showing how the items fill up the initially empty room or house. This gives a sense of satisfaction to the player at the end of the round, making them feel accomplished and motivated to continue playing another round.
The Lens of Curiosity
As the story is not told in an outright manner through dialogue or usage of words, the player is often left wondering what the subtle hints given by the game actually means.
The life story of the character slowly unfolds as the player progresses through the different stages.
The Lens of Challenge
Unpacking challenges the player to arrange the items given in boxes in a satisfying manner, figuring out and placing the items where they belong. Initially, the first few levels are relatively easier but it slowly progresses to a higher level of difficulty as players are given more items to unpack. Eventually, players are challenged to be able to figure out the correct placement for the items.
However, it can also be argued that there is less of a challenge when playing Unpacking due to its ultimate goal to be a zen puzzle game that allows the player to have a relaxing experience. There is no time limit for the player to work against, and there is no other character or player to beat.
The Lens of Fairness
The game allows many different ways for each level to be solved, which makes sense as there are different places where people prefer items to be placed. In a sense, this mechanic makes it fair for players as opposed to having just one strict answer to the puzzle.