As someone who recently moved into a new city, I saw Unpacking as reliving the nightmare that had been my move. However, the simple idea of a game revolving around the puzzle of finding the appropriate stuff in your home was something that I couldn’t not try.
It was so mundane, yet it felt like it had so much potential. I’m glad that I did give it a try because the game surprised me and not in the way that I thought it was going to with its gameplay.
A Story of Life
I had never considered that there might be a unique story premise before I started this game. I thought it was going to be a set of settings with increasingly diverse and difficult rooms that I needed to organize. However, developer Witch Beam depicts the life events of a young woman from when she was a girl all the way until she is settled down with a family of her own. It made me realize just how much of a meditative practice unpacking can be when you boil it down.
As you remove each small item that you have acquired over the years, you are left to think about where you picked that nicknack up or figure out where you should display that diploma you spent years of your life working toward. It’s a reflective practice that forces you to think about the previous chapter while looking forward to the next.
In Unpacking, since we are only seeing the snippets of this woman’s life in her moves, we are getting snapshots of everything that she accomplished in between. We see her going to her first college apartment where she brings along her childhood stuffed animal and games.
Or when she finally moves in with a boyfriend only for her to have little space to put her own things in conjunction to hers. She is forced to put her own diploma under the bed since there isn’t any wall space for her to use.
The next chapter of her life, we see her moving back into her family home in a sad turn of events. All her stuff crammed into the small child’s room, a snapshot of her boyfriend that once hung proudly on the fridge in the last apartment now sits in the cabinet with a tac in the man’s face.
But she lands on her feet. She finds a new apartment, keeps progressing in her career, makes room for her wants and needs, and ultimately looks like she begins to focus her energy on herself until she finally meets someone worth her time. It’s a simple story but one that, when told from this perspective, comes across as new and fresh.
It was always nice to see her collect a new memento from a foreign country or grow her collection of stuffed animals (like each chick seeming to represent another move). These little details are what allow the player to really get a sense of who this woman is. We learn about her through her belongings as much as the apartment or house that she is moving into. What she decides to keep, buy, or get rid of, all help to reveal the person who packed these boxes.
I was actually amazed at how much I came to root for this stranger and her journey through life. It felt so intimate and distant at the same time, and it’s an experience I will probably reflect on for quite a while.
The Zen of Unpacking
Many of us have had the absolute joy of moving to a new room, apartment, or home and having to find a place for all of the stuff that we have in our lives. Unpacking sets out to capture that “magic” and has you unpacking more and more belongings in changing settings. I enjoyed the varied items and having to find just the right home for them in the game.
There were times where I would load into another level and just feel overwhelmed with all the boxes and having no idea what was going to be in them. While items will carry over to the next location, the character has acquired quite a few additions since the last move, so the boxes reveal surprises with every move.
For the most part, you have a little bit of freedom in where you are allowed to place an item. Kitchen items should be in the kitchen, while the toothbrush should definitely be in the bathroom. However, sometimes, even within the room, things need to be placed somewhere very specifically.
The thing is, you won’t know if you are right about where an item goes until every item has been placed, and then the game will highlight the item that needs to be relocated. Sometimes it/s something obvious like a book that’s sitting on a table needs to be moved to the shelf. But sometimes, the items might not be obvious, like a laptop that needs to be on a particular table and not a desk.
The worst moments were when I couldn’t identify an item at all. There was one item in particular that looked like a bike lock, but I still have no idea what it is. I even forgot where it could be placed the first time I figured it out, and in the new apartment, it took me forever to find its place (it’s the kitchen, by the way). There are only a few items like this in the game where they can be a little questionable as to what they are supposed to be, but for the most part, everything is well designed.
There are a few easter egg items that you can interact with as well. Things like game consoles can be turned on, Rubik’s cubes solved, and mannequin dolls posed all add to the overall feel of the game. They give you minor ways to customize your own Unpacking journey while not being all that obvious that they can be carried out.
After you manage to unpack your latest move, a snapshot will be taken of the room, and you will have the option to watch a replay at different speeds of your move. It reminds me of the Super Meat Boy feature where you watch all of your deaths cause it can be interesting to watch you attempt to line up all the sauces in the kitchen to look perfect only to realize it doesn’t work there and move it to a cabinet in a mass exodus.
The game is pretty short, and you should be able to beat this one in an afternoon if you have the time and patience. It does retail for 20 dollars; however, I personally might have been a little disappointed at that price point, but luckily the game is available on Game Pass, which is fantastic.
Unpacking is a game more about slowing down and taking the time to appreciate the progress of life. The accomplishments and tragedies of the past and looking forward to the next chapter. The game itself lends itself well to this mindset, but the frustrating design of some of the items and the short game might make some people who bought this at full price a little disappointed. I enjoyed my time pretty thoroughly on Game Pass, and I know I will be thinking about this game for quite a while. 8/10