Unpacking’s secret messy mode just got a big viral boost

Even small games can reveal delightful surprises years later. Now, roughly two years after its release, Unpacking fans are suddenly discovering a previously revealed secret mode after a TikTok video brought it back into the public eye. The mode is called Dark Star, and it basically forces players to beat the game by tossing objects on the floor instead of neatly putting them away like in the main mode.

In Unpacking’s standard mode, players complete levels by pulling objects out of a box and finding an appropriate spot to store them. If, for instance, you put toilet paper in the kitchen sink, the game will highlight the item with a red line and won’t let you complete the level. However, once you beat the game the regular way, you can enter Dark Star mode, where you beat each level by making sure every single item is placed incorrectly and highlighted in red. Once a player misplaces every single item, the game will award them with a darkened star and let them progress to the next level.

Developer Witch Beam teased Dark Star as a secret mode prior to the official reveal, then shared a video documenting it as part of an April Fools’ Day post in 2022. “So many people thought it was a fake feature for April Fools’ until they tried it for themselves,” Tim Dawson, a co-founder of Witch Beam and technical director of Unpacking, told Polygon via email.

Since that official reveal, some content creators have even streamed their Dark Star runs. Still, it’s clear that many fans didn’t know about the mode. After Dec. 22 Witch Beam TikTok went viral, fans shared reactions like, “THERE’S A DARK STAR MODE?!?!” and “I have 100% this game and I DIDNT KNOW THIS!? WHAAAAAT!?” Another wrote, “dude I beat this game like 10 times and i am just hearing abt this?!”

Dawson told Polygon that the secret mode lets players find new ways to experience the game’s puzzles. In the comments, several fans commented on how difficult Dark Star mode can actually be.

“I think what makes Dark Star so interesting is initially it feels like a gag,” Dawson said. “But after a few levels, it sets in how much work it is, and continuing can feel absurd, transgressive, or cathartic. But in the end, it’s just another way to think about items and how they relate to our lives and the spaces we live in, which is what the game is all about.”

Dawson also says that while the mode “started as a joke,” the developers now appreciate it as an extension of the game. “Because we decided not to extend Unpacking with DLC or a sequel, we often mention Dark Star mode when fans contact us asking if we’ll make more levels,” he said. “In many cases, it gives them another way to experience the game.”

Personally, I think Dark Star mode speaks to the ways our own media diets and specific bubbles of the internet can sometimes preserve a sense of surprise in a game. For Dawson, this kind of surprise can lend a sense of character to a game.

“I think secrets help give games their personality,” he said. “They’re the twinkle in the eye that suggests that these virtual worlds we spend time in might just be a bit bigger than you think. I love that we were able to come up with a good one for Unpacking.”