I played the demo for Unpacking what feels like years ago and I fell in love with it straight away. It is a profoundly relaxing experience. I have been waiting a long time for this game to release and finally it has arrived. Before we get to the action, let’s have a quick look at the studio behind it.
Witch Beam was founded in 2013 by Tim Dawson, Sanatana Mishra and Jeff van Dyck. They are a small indie studio based in Australia and before coming together as Witch Beam, they all worked at Sega Studios Australia. Tim and Sanatana left first, with Jeff following shortly after. Two years later, they served up their first game to the world – Assault Android Cactus
Assault Android Cactus is an intense arcade style twin stick shooter – pick from one of nine unique synthetic heroines and blast your way through overwhelming robots hordes to save the ship from its own workforce. Supports single player and local co-op game modes.
Assault Android Cactus was released on PC, Steam, Playstation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch. The response was ‘overwhelmingly positive’, with more than 1,000 glowing reviews on Steam. It didn’t stop there either…
With the success of Assault Android Cactus secure, Witch Beam could start to think about their next project. The team saw some new additions, including Wren Brier, who joined as a long term collaborator and subsequently became the lead of their follow up release, Unpacking.
I’m so excited for this. Let’s play!
Unpacking is a zen puzzle game about the familiar experience of pulling possessions out of boxes and fitting them into a new home. Part block-fitting puzzle, part home decoration, you are invited to create a satisfying living space while learning clues about the life you’re unpacking.
Not a single word is spoken in Unpacking. There are no introductions, or cut scenes, or even tutorials, and yet by the end I felt quite protective of whoever had roped me in to essentially breaking my back for them. You can learn a lot about someone from what they hold onto through the years and this simple act of show and no tell was refreshing. Allowing me to create backstories for household items, even ephemeral whimsies in my own mind, was a creative exercise that made me feel good.
The game takes place from 1997 to 2018, beginning in a child’s bedroom. I played on my laptop and using the LMB I pulled objects from a box and placed them around the room. By clicking the RMB, you can rotate the object. Once the room you’re in is done, you move to another room. The game is as simple as that. The first level is just one room but before long you’re settling into student digs, then your partner’s flat, and finally your own home. Unpacking is easy on the eyes, with impressively detailed retro-style pixel art and a wide use of colour. Soft music follows you through the rooms accompanying the strong, primitive satisfaction of putting things in their place. Rest easy because you can take as long as you like. You’re not being timed, and no one is keeping score.
There are ups and downs for our secret protagonist. There is only really one rule throughout the game and that is some items have to be in certain places or specific rooms. That is the puzzle element, but even this can be turned off if you want to run riot. I was temporarily stuck because I had a photo that for some reason didn’t want to be on the wall. This was during a level where our mover had clearly broken up with their partner. I finally figured out the game wanted me to hide the photograph. Out of sight, out of mind. That was a nice touch.
I finished Unpacking in just over two hours, but that was just working through the levels. There are plenty of stickers to collect throughout the game and there are 25 Steam achievements to unlock.
What has to highlighted about this release is its dedication to accessibility.
- No actions require clicking-and-dragging, holding down buttons, or pressing more than one button at a time
- PC versions support Mouse+keyboard, gamepad, and touch on supported hardware
- Can be played one-handed on PC using just a mouse
- Nintendo Switch version supports gamepad, touch, and gyro in two-handed and one-handed configurations
- Controls are remappable
UI buttons can be enlarged and screen can be zoomed in during gameplay
- The red invalid item outline colour can be changed
- Room swapping animation can be disabled to avoid motion sickness
No gameplay cues are delivered exclusively through audio
- Music and sound effect volume can be controlled separately
No time limits or penalties for missteps
- Text is minimal and reading is not required to enjoy the game and be able to complete it
- “Allow items anywhere” option removes the puzzle element of the game to allow any player to progress
Witch Beam went above and beyond, and they were rewarded for it.
Unpacking is a special game. Moving in, out, or on is something we all do – crikey, I moved three months ago. I highly recommend this, it is a fantastic effort from a studio that has had two big hits back to back. You should keep your eye on Witch Beam.
Unpacking is out now on Steam, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, Humble Store, and GOG
Website – Unpacking: a zen puzzle game about unpacking a life (unpackinggame.com)
Steam page – Unpacking on Steam (steampowered.com)
Twitter – @UnpackingALife