Story of Unpacking

In this Zen puzzle video game, you play as an unnamed female protagonist as you unpack items around your various rooms, apartments, and homes. Each stage is a diverse area and size, representing the protagonist’s different life events. We learn about the protagonist’s life through about twenty years through the items and places she lives.

Full thoughts and Review of Unpacking

I’m not going to waste time, as I have a lot to unpack with this game (that should be the last bad pun I make). Unpacking is a puzzle game, also referred to as a Zen game. A Zen Game puts your brain in a paused or relaxed state for those who don’t know—slowing your brain down and relaxing. It can be a needed break if you play many action games. To me, some Zen videogames are Harvest MoonStardew Valley, and even Animal Crossing games can fit this genre. I found Unpacking on Xbox game pass and gave this game a try.

You play as an unnamed female protagonist as you go through several different stages of her life. There are eight stages, and each place represents a stage of her life. You go through various moving boxes of her packed items. The object is to place and organize items into the correct rooms and living spaces. There isn’t too much else to the gameplay, but go around each room and unpack boxes. After you finish unpacking, you move on. You are essentially cleaning setting up rooms making the game feel like a Marie Kondo tidying up simulator. Without an option to toss the items you acquired when you unpack. Everything has a purpose or place, and you need to find where things have to go.

There are options where to place your protagonist’s possessions. You have various draws, shelves, and cabinets to put the items away. Items meant for another room will sometimes be in a different box in another room. While the game is a relaxing puzzle game, there are some items where items can and can’t go. You can’t put kitchen items in the bathroom, for example. After unpacking all the boxes, items in incorrect locations remain highlighted until they are in their proper place. You then have to find the correct spot in each room.

I admire a story in the game that is hidden but obvious if the player pays attention. You can find this out by the protagonists’ items throughout the game. Things that the protagonist brings with her and acquires will tell a journey and reveal the protagonist’s good and bad experiences. You can learn about her heritage, friends, personal life, and interest by her items, making this a coming of age/life’s story. There isn’t any dialogue other than sentence writings in her journal after completing each level. Making the story “show, don’t tell.” This style choice can make a player go back to see what each item is and says about the protagonist. The game adds some help to the story on certain levels; certain things need to be placed in certain areas, subtle hints as to what’s happening with the protagonist. In a way, it’s much like any person, how we keep items memorabilia as we progress throughout our lives.

The game has an isometric 3-D pixel look that advertises hi-res pixel art and stays pretty detailed. You can zoom in and out as the items are clear enough to determine what they look like and represent. It’s perhaps a little too close to specific real-world items as I feel they get too close to looking like copyrighted video game consoles and movies. I still appreciate the effort to make them look like their real-world representation. Whenever you try to put items away, they seem to have a snap-on style whenever placed into an area. So you can cram things away as you can in real life. You know need to worry about running out of room or having enough space on a stage, as each level has plenty of room, with room to spare. I like the customizable way to put away your items. Expect certain things in the game; you have the freedom to move and place items anywhere in a specific room.

There isn’t much else to this game. There is a calming soundtrack that doesn’t play the whole time. Instead, the music comes and goes. It gives the game a more soothing ness to the zen-like genre it’s trying to achieve. I’ll admit, I zoned out sometimes while playing this game that I didn’t even notice the music stopped until it started up again. Its ambiance helps to relax your brain that way.

I liked this game, but it might not be for everyone. It’s very simplistic in its presentation and gameplay. I enjoyed the pixel art style and detail. The story isn’t apparent at first but might give the game some replayability with its “show don’t tell” narrative style. The game is only a few hours and might not be for anyone looking for an engaging, in-depth video game. Unpacking is for someone looking for a quick distraction or to unwind in a video game.  

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