Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few months, you would have seen that platformers are having somewhat of a resurgence. Crash Bandicoot's N. Sane continues to dominate the top of the UK charts and indies such as Snake Pass and Yooka Laylee have emerged to capitalise on our nostalgia. Prospect Games' debut title Unbox: Newbie's Adventure promises to deliver a fresh approach to the genre, bringing a new age of boxed-based platforming into our living rooms.
You play as the titular Newbie, "the world's first self-delivering box" who has been created by the GPS (Global Postal Service) to help save them from recent financial woes. Newbie must also protect his creators from the wildcards, a group of boxes that have gone rogue after they were mass produced in an effort to make delivery more streamlined. It may sound awfully far-fetched, we know, but the humour present within the core narrative and moments of dialogue lend massively to Newbie's overall charm. NPCs even grunt and garble their lines in a similar fashion to Banjo Kazooie and Yooka-Laylee, which is downright adorable.
Playing as a box rolling down cliffsides and scaling the rooftops of buildings was a similar joy experienced when playing Goat Simulator or I Am Bread for the first time, but anyone who has played those titles will likely agree the novelty is soon to wear fast. Newbie is awfully slippery to handle when rolling which is frustrating during moments where precise platforming is demanded of you. Pressing the LB button (on Xbox One) allows you to jump and by pressing RB you can unbox yourself, discarding a polystyrene filled layer to help soar into the air. This choice of controls, rather than the typical A button, did require a bit of getting used to at first, but it did quickly feel natural after the first handful of challenges.
Your time with Unbox will be divided between the sun drenched shores of Paradise Isle, the snowy summits of Parcel Peaks and the vast jungles of Isla Cartulina. Whilst humorously named, the three locales have pretty much become genre cliches at this point and there was always a looming feeling of deja vu. Similar to classic platformers Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64 and Jak and Daxter, Unbox is a collectathon, with many shiny objects scattered across its worlds for you to collect. Golden rolls of tape are similar to precursor orbs in Jak and Daxter and there's 200 in each level for you to collect, with many in well-hidden locations. There's also zippies to rescue who have been held prisoner in cages by the wild cards; free them and they may (or may not) give you additional information on the GPS. A major issue Unbox has, however, is that there is no in-game map to refer to if you're hoping to return to recently visited areas in search of collectables.
The main collectables are stamps, which are basically the equivalent to power cells in Jak and Daxter and can be earned by completing various challenges or by visiting secret areas. You need a select number of stamps before the stage's boss encounter opens up; beat the boss and then you're rewarded with a master stamp which is used to unlock the next island. Challenges you complete to earn stamps require you complete favours for NPCs like restoring power to the island, playing hide and seek with a group of zippies or roughing up gangs of wildcards. Many of the challenges, whilst entertaining at first, are often recycled across the three island with only minor tweaks in the way of variation.
Unbox is bright and cartoony and captures the joyous feel of N64 platforming classics, but under its glossy exterior is a box-load of technical flaws. Frame-rate dips occur frequently and we often found ourselves caught on objects and seeing through the other sides of surfaces. Whilst these issues weren't game breaking, they still frustrated during moments where platforming was required to be precise. Where Unbox does deserve praise, however, is its soundtrack which works to mirror the worlds various motifs from the chimes of the steel drums in Paradise Isle to the soothing ambient sounds of Parcel Peaks.
There's also local multiplayer where you and your buddies can get together and play through mini-games found in the single-player story. These modes include races, firework-fuelled arena battles and challenges where you must retrieve items in a set time. While there is sadly no option to play these modes online, they still offer a nice touch and help to strengthen the title's longevity, even if they aren't particularly original. We also feel multiplayer will be especially a nice addition to the Switch version, where two controls are packaged as standard.
Whilst Newbie's first adventure may be packaged with some original concepts and ideas, its execution is sadly a little rough around the edges. Its core method of traversal feels awfully slippery resulting in frustration, and technical issues frequently make an appearance. With much stronger platformers Snake Pass and Yooka Laylee emerging recently, it's a little hard to recommend Newbie's Adventure as a go-to platforming title, but if you're after a quirky title with lots of personality to help breeze through a Sunday afternoon, maybe give this one a look.
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