It's clear that Unpacking had accessibility in mind during production, and what is available certainly offers up a gentle and enjoyable experience. Although improvements to visual indications and allowing remapping to double up would be beneficial.
Score8 out of 10
- No timers or scores
- Option to remove puzzle element
- Simple gameplay
- Can be played with just a mouse
- Large default HUD that can be increased
- Seemingly no keyboard support for menu navigation
- Control remapping would benefit from secondary inputs
- More visual indications would be useful
Moving out is always a task in itself, but what about when it comes to moving in? Well, with Witch Beam’s new title, you’ll be doing just that, moving in. Specifically, in Unpacking, you’ll be unpacking your boxes and putting your items away in their places, and the studio has noted accessibility information already on its website. So we’re going to look at how accessible the calming puzzle game is to play.
When you boot, you can head over to the settings menu to get straight into adjusting the game. You can find more information about what’s contained here, in our menu deep dive, but generally speaking, there are audio sliders, control options, and an accessibility menu with a small number of options available to tailor the game to your preferences.
Unpack correctly, if you want
Jumping into your new living spaces, the game starts off small, having you unpacking items in a simple bedroom before progressing to places that have more rooms with more boxes to unpack. The goal is always simple, to place these items away in places you’d assume them to be placed with the puzzle element requiring you to ensure all items have been correctly placed in decent areas.
If you haven’t put these away properly, then when all boxes have been emptied, the game will highlight any items with a red outline, requiring you to find their designated area before the level can be completed. Although, those outlines could be a lot more prominent than they actually are, as really they’re a touch on the thin side.
For those looking for a more zen experience, or if you’re like me and couldn’t make out what some of the smaller items are due to Unpacking‘s pixel art style, thus not knowing where it belongs, you can toggle a feature that allows you to place items anywhere and still complete the level. While the puzzle element is removed, you can still enjoy putting things away as a therapeutic experience, or maybe again, if you’re like me, and find items belonging in another room and just dump them on the floor and plan to “get to them later”.
Control and pace
One of the joys of Unpacking for me was how simple it is to play with a mouse. You can simply use the mouse to click once to pick up, then click a second time to place. There’s no dragging and dropping available and there’s no time limit to penalize you as well as there being no scoring system to make you feel as if you’ve not done the best you can do.
While the mouse acts as an important input for navigating the game, the keyboard can be remapped to make use of HUD elements, switching between rooms, even rebinding the inputs for picking up and rotating items. The main issue I see here is that you cannot double up on inputs. For example, I can change the left mouse click input to E for picking items up, but that means I lose the left mouse click capability for menu navigation. On that note, the main menu cannot be navigated with keyboard inputs.
It would have been fantastic to see stronger accessibility support here for Unpacking with perhaps a Tab system to cycle through the simple HUD elements, or using WASD to scroll through available interactive objects, and even having a button to instantly withdraw an item from a box.
The controller support fares better in Unpacking, allowing remapping but also the use of triggers to swap rooms, buttons to open HUD elements, and zoom with the d-pad. However, to navigate the world you’ll be using a cursor controlled by thumbsticks. For those on the Nintendo Switch or even the upcoming Steam Deck, touchscreen support is available, although with how precise some of the cursor clicks are for some items, it’ll be better to use the game’s zoom function.
Highlight lacking, object snapping
Unpacking has a small number of outlines for items, but I felt like more could have been done. When hovering over items that can be picked up, there’s no outline, and the mouse cursor only shows a subtle visual indication for interacting for opening unopened boxes or doors and drawers. It could have been nice to have any available item to present an outline once hovered over, which could also help with precision. The main outlines are the red ones I mentioned earlier that appear once all boxes have been emptied, and there’s an option to adjust the color of this outline from the settings.
But on the topic of precision, when it comes to placing your items, there’s no outline for where you’re placing them, but they do snap to each available space depending on whether it can be placed or not. If it cannot be placed, the item will be slightly transparent instead of opaque. Apologies for the overuse of the word “placing” and “placed” there.
Unpacking also has some accessibility for vision available, with the main big feature being that you’re able to increase the size of the HUD elements to a fairly nice size. At its default, the icon sizes are nice and clear with icons that make sense, but having that option to make these even bigger is a lovely feature to have. There’s also a zoom function to use at will that lets you zoom right in on the room through buttons on the top-right of the screen. I would have liked to have the chance to zoom with the mouse wheel, but that’s just personal preference.
There’s not a lot of reading involved and it’s also not a requirement. The readable moments seem to be just the main menu and moments between playable levels where the story unfolds. Even then, it’s usually just a small note in a journal-written way. I do think that Unpacking could benefit from a bold font option across the board for accessibility, or the option to override the default handwritten font to a sans serif font.
There’s no text-to-speech or narration available in the game, and for those that don’t like the game’s default room swapping slide animation, you can change it to a fade. For room swapping, you can slide between rooms using the icons on the edge of the screen, a keyboard shortcut (or triggers on console), or open the floorplan. However, having an option to have the floor plan always open and instead at the bottom of the screen in a clear row could have made for an easier understanding of rooms.
Cues and sounds
I found that when inside a completed room —these are ones without boxes— the icons on the HUD would present a gentle and subtle pulsing effect for rooms still needing to be unpacked. This was nice to be directed to what still needs completing, but if there was a floor plan constantly shown on screen as noted above, I think the management would have been a bit clearer.
In addition, Unpacking is a very visual game which means that audio isn’t required. There are no audio cues hidden away and cues are accompanied by visuals, such as when you complete a level and can progress to the next, a star will clearly appear with a triumphant sound.
In the end, I found Unpacking to be a game that clearly shows that the studio had accessibility in mind during production. Hopefully, future updates to the game can improve what’s available, such as the menu navigation and having outlines appear when hovered. What accessibility is available allows Unpacking to be an enjoyable experience, and without scores and timers, it’s a wonderful zen-like game that I’ve personally needed after these last few years of chaos.
A review copy of Unpacking was provided by the developer / publisher.