In a current ecosystem where pixel-art rogue-likes, 2D platformers, and side-scrolling adventure games are surging onto Switch, there isn’t much in the way of 3D platformers on the system (pre-Super Mario Odyssey, anyway). With the hype of the upcoming Super Mario Odyssey and the want for games like Yooka-Laylee, there seems to be a void for titles in that vein.
Enter Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure, a whimsical 3D platformer taking obvious cues from the likes of Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie. The main game’s premise is centered on the idea of a corporation known as the Global Postal Service (GPS), completely run by sentient cardboard boxes, the members of which are being harassed by a rogue group of boxes known as the Wild Cards. It’s up to the player character, Newbie, to help the citizens of each world, earning collectibles along the way.
With Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure, it’s pretty standard fare when it comes to the genre: you jump around, completing various side missions and obtaining collectibles. Stamps would be Unbox’s equivalent to Banjo-Kazooie’s Jiggys, and Gold Tapes are akin to Musical Notes. The main difference, though, is how Newbie moves: since he’s a box, his main mode of transport is rolling. Newbie can also jump, and he can slam to the ground after jumping to attack enemy boxes; he can even pick up items, like fireworks, and shoot them off at distant targets or enemies. Additionally, there are various vehicles scattered across each world that Newbie can control, but these controls are oft non-intuitive, and driving these vehicles felt slippery at best.
The most notable move in Newbie’s arsenal, however, is his titular Unbox move. Unbox acts as a double jump, but Newbie can Unbox up to six times—even in a row—as indicated by an on-screen counter. Once used, Newbie will have to collect health boxes, which are scattered across each world, in order to Unbox again. This mechanic definitely lends an interesting aspect to the way you might approach the game, as each Unbox launches Newbie pretty high into the air, making traversal across wide gaps manageable and scaling tall structures a breeze, which might otherwise prove more difficult in other 3D platformers.
As far as Newbie’s movement, it does take some getting used to. Even once I’d already spent a few hours with the game, I still found myself not judging gaps all that well and plunging into the water, which will cause Newbie to respawn at the last visited mailbox, the game’s checkpoint system. The box physics work as you might expect them to, though at times Newbie’s movements seem rather unwieldy. Not long into my first play session, I had to go into the settings and dial down the sensitivity so that I would stop rocketing off the platforms into the open water. If you do find yourself falling off the platforms often, the game is rather generous with mailbox locations to respawn at, and the fact Newbie never actually takes damage or dies significantly lessens the stakes.
The worlds in Unbox are fun and diverse, from a beach vacation setting to polar ice caps, and the activities for which Newbie is rewarded with Stamps often utilize the locale at hand. In one mission at Paradise Isles, Newbie was tasked with retrieving stolen boat parts from the mischievous Wild Cards, and he had to launch himself onto multiple speedboats racing around open water to obtain the parts. Also, it’s worth noting that the game’s main story can be completed in as little as three or four hours, but that’s assuming only the Stamps are being collected. As with other collectible-heavy games, it’s easy to get lost by just exploring the levels for all of the 200 Gold Tapes to be found in each world.
In terms of visual fidelity, it’s a mixed bag. I did experience some frame rate issues, and there is definitely a lot of pop-in when it comes to distant textures; even close-up textures appeared muddy, and more than once Newbie glitched and appeared to be inside of a platform he was sitting on. I also did experience some issues in terms of textures which appeared to vibrate and glitch, particularly on paved roads, for some reason. That said, for a game that seems to embrace the ‘90s 3D platformer aesthetic, it’s tough to distinguish whether some of these are actual issues or intentional design choices. Still, a number of these issues speak to lack of polish, and it’s tough to give a pass on things like glitching textures.
These issues aside, Unbox is still charming in both visual presentation and in its characters. While not every character Newbie interacts with is particularly memorable, there are standouts, and the dialogue, along with the Banjo– (and, more recently, Yooka-Laylee) esque voice acting, is endearing. The music for each world is particularly fitting, and makes for a fun and delightful score as a backdrop to bouncing around and finding all the game’s collectibles. Additionally, being able to customize Newbie’s appearance only adds to the overall charm.
The aforementioned muddy textures are, unfortunately, exacerbated when blown up on the big screen in docked mode. While it’s always been my preference to play most Switch games docked with my Pro controller (and it still is with Unbox), I can’t give a glowing recommendation that the game looks its best this way. While the previously mentioned issues are still present in handheld mode, they’re significantly less glaring on the Switch’s smaller screen.
In addition to the main story mode, Unbox does also feature a local multiplayer mode for up to four players. While I didn’t have a chance to try any of these modes out, they are arena-based, competitive games to play with friends, so that would be worth checking out if you’re looking for some multiplayer action, but I wouldn’t consider that the main attraction here. Given the performance issues I encountered in single player, I can only imagine having four players on-screen at once might result in some frame rate issues, but I cannot definitively speak to that in this review.
Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure takes cues from some of the best of the 3D platforming genre from the late ‘90s and puts a unique spin on it by making the player character a box. With diverse worlds, a beautifully scored soundtrack, and charming visuals, Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure is a good fill in the 3D platformer space, but one which will soon be eclipsed by the likes of Super Mario Odyssey. Frame rate issues and glitching textures make me wish that the team at Prospect Games had spent a bit more time polishing the game, but its overall charm somewhat, but not fully, mitigates those issues.
Disclaimer: A review code for Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure was provided by the game’s publisher.