Tag Archives: Platformer

Review: Unravel

unravel-cover-art
via Wikipedia

Unravel (2016)

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.

unravel-1
via Coldwood Interactive

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.

unravel-2
via Coldwood Interactive

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.

unravel-score

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Review: The Swapper

via Giant Bomb
via Giant Bomb

The Swapper (2013)

PS4 / E10+

Puzzle / Platformer

Publisher: Curve Digital

Developer: Facepalm Games, Curve Digital


Puzzle games can be extremely satisfying experiences if executed correctly.  Puzzles need to be deep and innovative, using familiar mechanics while managing to keep things fresh as time goes along.  This is precisely why The Swapper was such a satisfying experience.  Not only did it deliver on the puzzles, but it managed to tell a simple yet compelling story with the eerie and dark backdrop of space.  It was a weird experience, but I liked it.

the swapper 1

The game doesn’t waste time in throwing you right into the world.  You play as a female space scavenger who finds herself stranded in an abandoned and mysterious space research facility, which you learn is named Theseus.  The facility, among others, was set up to mine for resources.  Earth has already used up a majority of its resources, forcing the construction and deployment of these facilities to essentially save Earth from a resource crisis.  Theseus and its crew landed on Chori V and discovered some weird, but abundant mineral deposits in the ground.  However, things go awry as these resources start to have adverse effects on the crew and their functions.

As the lone explorer of the space station, the player is left to their own devices to discover the story of what happened to Theseus and its crew.  While wondering around the station’s corridors, you brush up against a mysterious device known as The Swapper.  The device allows for the creation of clones which you can swap in and out of at will.  You’re not meant to immediately get what is going on with the device, but as you progress through the game, you start to learn more about it and its effects.  I like the sense of progression that the game employs.  You are given little in the beginning, but as you make your way through the research facility, you discover more and more, until you finally realize what actually happened to the doomed facility.

via PS4 Home
via PS4 Home

The Swapper, despite its deep, chilling story is a puzzle game by nature.  The device that players picks up yields some great innovative and thoughtful puzzles that feel satisfying every time you solve them.  The obstacles that you have to overcome are pretty easy in the beginning.  The mechanics are simple, you can create clones and then switch to them to gain access to other areas.  Red lights prevent you from swapping to your created clones while blue lights prevent the creation of clones.  Purple lights prevent both actions.  In terms of mechanics, that’s pretty much all there is to it.  Some puzzles require quick timing and precision but don’t let that scare you.  Most of the puzzles are pretty easy to figure out, but are challenging enough to make feel great when completing them.  There are a couple of puzzles that I found to be quite frustrating and annoying, but these problems are few and far between to be too meddling.

You will know when you complete a puzzle because at the end you receive different types of orbs.  Some contain a single orb while others contain multiple orbs.  They all are added to your grand total which allow you to access blocked areas.  The game’s final terminal is only accessible after finding 124 orbs, which means you will have to explore the entirety of the facility to gain the necessary orbs necessary for accessing the final moments.  This was a cool way to handle progression and it made the game feel like Metroid in a way.  You’ll run across areas that you aren’t able to access right away but after some exploration and puzzle solving, you will be able to access these areas in due time.

via Egg Plante
via Egg Plante

Perhaps the neatest thing about The Swapper is its brilliant atmosphere that surrounds the whole experience.  There’s a feeling of loneliness that envelopes you as you make your way through the space station’s abandoned corridors.  There is a silence that lingers in the air, besides the sound of your footsteps.  It’s a chilling adventure.  The game also looks amazing as well.  If the art style looks handmade to you, that’s because it is.  The artists at Curve Studios originally made the game’s assets with clay.  They then digitized their creations to bring the game’s world to life on screen.  The game deserves major props for its art direction.

The Swapper ends with a choice that you have to make based off the information that you have gleaned as you cloned and swapped your way through the station.  This was a thoughtful and deep game, which I was not expecting given the game’s initial moments.  The puzzles and obstacles that you encounter never get old despite the lack of new mechanics.  Instead, they evolve and innovate with these simple mechanics to give you fresh and new experiences right up to the game’s ending.  I encourage you to take the trip through the space station to discover the true story of Theseus and The Swapper.

the swapper score

Also available on PC, PS3, Vita, and Xbox One

Review: Never Alone

via store.neveralonegame.com
via store.neveralonegame.com

Never Alone (2014)

PS4 / Rated T

Puzzle / Platformer / Educational

Publisher: Upper One Games

Developer: Upper One Games


The Inupiaq people of Alaska are a fascinating group of people.  I never understood how people could live and carry out their daily lives in such harsh and cold climates.  Alaska can be brutal during the winter months, but the Inupiaq people manage to get by.  The have a rich and thriving culture and a pretty deep history as well.  Thanks to the work of indie studio Upper One Games, the Inupiaq now have a game based on their culture, titled Never Alone (also known as Kisima Innitchuna).

Rooted in deep in Inupiaq tradition, the game tells the story of a little girl named Nuna who is met with the problem of an eternal blizzard.  She has to go to the source of the problem to set things right.  Early on, she comes into acquaintance with a cute arctic fox.  The two grow an attachment to each other and accompany each other through the harsh wintery adventure.

via Techno Buffalo
via Techno Buffalo

The game is a puzzle-platformer that puts you in control of both Nuna and the fox.  You switch between the two rather seamlessly to get past puzzles.  The fox can reach some of the harder to reach places and Nuna can do some of the physical work that the fox can’t.  The puzzles that you encounter throughout the adventure are usually not too hard, but there are some situations that are frustrating as hell to get by.

Speaking of frustrating, the gameplay could use a lot of work.  The game does not necessarily require too much of the player in terms of platforming, but the controls just seem imprecise.  They did not feel too good when I was making jumps and trying to get by.  I often found myself having trouble with certain sequences due to the frustrating nature of the controls.  A little while in, Nuna acquires the “Bola,” a projectile-style weapon of Inupiaq tradition.  The weapon requires you to first aim the weapon and then throw the projectile in the direction you want.  It almost reminded me of throwing eggs in Yoshi’s Island. However, the mechanic was not fun at all to use, and almost always took me multiple attempts to get a desired result.  You control both motions with only the right stick, which can cause a lot of headaches when trying throw the weapon in certain trajectories.

via XBLA Fans
via XBLA Fans

Never Alone also suffers from some technical problems that detract from the overall experience.  I often found both Nuna and the fox glitching in the game’s geometry, and getting stuck.  Luckily there is a reset option that puts your characters back at the most recent checkpoint.  The two character’s behavior was also unpredictable at times, which led to some frustration when trying to progress.

There is a level of charm that the game gives off, as well as a careful attention to the details of the Inupiaq culture, that demands for a little praise.  The game looks pretty nice, and the environments and character designs all fit together pretty well.  There’s not a whole lot of variety to the game’s atmosphere, but that is probably because Alaska is not the most diverse place in terms of looks.  There are also “Cultural Insights” that the player can collect along the way that provide some further information and facts about the many different aspects of Inupiaq culture.  These little bite-size videos feature some good production work and were often fun to watch through.

via Console Domination
via Console Domination

It is hard to argue the heart that Never Alone contains.  It is pretty apparent that there was a lot of work put into the game to make it a genuine experience about the Inupiaq culture.  However, there were a lot of frustrations that I took away that made the experience a less enjoyable.  It is a shame because I really wanted to like the game.  It does a lot of things right, but it also does a lot of things wrong as well.

never alone score