PS4 / Rated E
Puzzle / Platformer
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Coldwood Interactive
When this little indie game from Coldwood Interactive named Unravel was first announced at EA’s 2015 E3 press conference, it immediately caught my attention. A very nervous Martin Sahlin, the game’s creator, came out on stage and proceeded to introduce us to the game, and its adorable little star, Yarny. (Seen below) I remember being instantly intrigued with its mechanics and instantly charmed by the games irresistibly cute visual style. It later went on to release in early 2016, but it seemed to be a game that largely flew under people’s radars…including mine. After about a year I finally dipped my toes into what Unravel is all about and I was met with a very charming experience with some unique platforming elements that make it standout from some of its peers.
As I mentioned before, the game stars a small red, cat-looking creature named Yarny, who is made entirely of yarn. Yarny is constantly in awe and wonderment as he explores the objects and environments around him. The game starts you in a small house that includes pictures of different locations that are important to the homeowner’s life. Yarny explores these environments and collects memories along the way, slowly telling the emotional and nostalgic stories of the homeowner and their family throughout the years.
It is a very gripping story structure that drives you through the game. There no cut scenes and a scant amount of characters, but the whole story is told through pictures and mirages in the environments that you explore. Some of these stories were a little tough to understand, but the game does a fantastic job at capturing the various moments and emotions that families experience, whether it is the happy moments or the sad moments. It is harrowing at times and will most likely relate to your life in some way. Unravel, despite its simple concept, has a way of resonating with players, making it a special experience.
The game is made up of twelve different levels spanning environments like forests, mountainous hilltops, and snowy valleys…to name a few. These levels require you to use Yarny’s body made of yarn to get pasts its various obstacles and dangers. Yarny can create rope to swing across gaps, make bridges, and maneuver objects. If that was not enough, Yarny also unravels (insert title card) as you make your way through the level. If you are overzealous with your yarn usage, you will eventually run out of yarn and Yarny will be stripped down to his basic frame. To combat this, there are various “checkpoints” in the levels that allow you to re-spool, giving Yarny more yarn to work with. I did not find myself running out of yarn too much, but it does add another layer of complexity to the levels and their thoughtful design. In terms of overall difficulty, the game is not too challenging. There are moments where the game will get you, but death is never really a burden given the generous checkpoint system. You also can warp back to the latest checkpoint if you find yourself stuck.
One gripe I have with Unravel’s mechanics are the floaty controls that sometimes make tougher platforming sections a little frustrating. There were some moments in the game were tighter controls would have been more helpful. There is a trophy (on PS4) that requires you to go through each level without dying and I quickly found myself giving up because the controls were not as up-to-snuff as I would have liked them to be. There is also the tiny issue of freshness when it comes to the game’s mechanics. Unravel does a commendable job, for the most part, of giving you new challenges that change things up, but this evolution in gameplay starts to taper off when you get to the later levels. Due to the game’s simplistic nature, it is tough to constantly give you new ways of using the mechanics at your disposal.
But let us talk about the game’s main attraction: just how darn cute the whole thing is. There is an enormous amount of detail that went into the game’s visual style from the environments to Yarny himself. Everything has a tactile feel to it and Yarny looks super realistic. Coldwood Interactive most likely drew some inspiration from Nintendo’s games like Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Yoshi’s Wooly World. The game’s score is also well done, meshing perfectly with the game’s heartwarming story of family and nostalgia.
Despite the few issues I had with the game’s mechanics Unravel still manages to invoke tons of feeling, something you do not see too much from puzzle-platformers. The game’s eye-popping adorability is what pulls you in but it is the gripping and emotional story that convinces you to stay. It is a relatively short, but powerful, experience that manages to do some cool things with its yarn-based mechanics. Unravel is worth your time. It is worth it alone just to see Yarny’s curiosity of the world around him.