90s platformers had their fair share of iconic characters – plumbers, apes, robot rabbits, geckos… all some sort of human figure or anthropomorphic creature. I can’t recall any which based their main protagonist on an inanimate object. Yet Unbox: Newbies Adventure bucks that trend with the main character who is a cardboard box.
The Global Postal Service (GPS) are going through tough times. In fact, they are about to go bankrupt, and in a bid to save themselves they create sentient boxes which can deliver themselves. Notwithstanding the massive redundancies this would cause, the Board meeting where that was suggested must have been laced with heavy amounts of synthetic chemicals. Nonetheless, the R&D paid off and sentient boxes are in full force as part of the GPS workforce.
Your role is to help guide the latest creation of the sentient workforce through his training. Aptly named ‘Newbie’ you need to complete your training through a series of test islands (did no one suggest selling an island to save from bankruptcy??) in order to prove your worth and do your bit to help save GPS. On hand to help are many other sentient boxes whose days of delivering themselves are presumably over.
Newbie takes its queue from many 90s platformers, inheriting a lot of the same issues. The most obvious however is a new issue for this genre – usually controls are hindered by a rogue camera, but in Newbie they are hindered by the character himself. The best way to describe this is imagine how you control a character in other games. Push forward, you go forward, left you go left etc. Imagine rolling a marble on a table. The direction you roll it is the direction it goes (assuming it’s flat). Now get a cube. Roll that on a table. This is the problem Newbie has.
Navigating the world just feels like hard work. Straight lines are fine but as soon as you start going into directions or on variable incline terrain it goes a bit off-kilter. Obviously a self-delivering parcel can’t just roll to its destination, you need to be able to cover large distances. Newbie can jump, but he can also ‘unbox’. An unbox move is a super jump essentially of which you can chain together up to 6 (assuming you have the required health points) which means Newbie can cover very, very large distances in one go. The weight of this is all over the place though, and you can steer on a whim and really angle Newbie where you want him to go. Problems are faced on sections requiring small or normal jumps to navigate.
Early on you need to flip a number of switches in order to supply power to a building. Some of these require navigating through small corridors and finesse jumps around obstacles which will sap your health. Finesse jumps are not Newbie’s strong suit, and the camera – whist actually serviceable in the open world – is not best suited for smaller or closed in environments.
Enemy activity is also a problem. Your main attack is a smash from a jump. But positioning yourself in the right place so your jump hurts the enemy without actually hitting them yourself is tricky, especially with the weight of the aiming and jumping being difficult to gauge.
Obviously a lot of love and care has gone into this. Attention has been paid to the environments to make them look large and full of colour and characters, even though the visuals don’t really meet the expectations of a modern-day platformer. Yooka-Laylee is the most recent and obvious comparison and Newbie falls short compared to it. One thing it does copy though, is the horrific voice noises from characters when talking. If you converse with a character, you’ll get some on-screen text and a horrible, horrible waffly grating noise. Yooka-Laylee was later patched to significantly reduce this. I can only hope that Unbox does the same.
With three big worlds to explore, there is a fair bit to keep you busy. Local multiplayer is on hand too should you deserve with a surprisingly diverse selection of game types to choose from; my favourite being a race mode, where you and friends are rushing to be the first to deliver yourself. It’s nice that these little extras are in.
Overall, Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure is an ok package. It has quite a few problems but character does shine through and it’s nice to have another 3D platformer to play with after years of the genre being forgotten. All the usual elements are here too, collectables galore included and if you can handle the overt problems, you’ll get something out of it.
Reviewed on PS4