I cannot express how excited I am to finally play this game. From the moment I first saw it unveiled during EA’s E3 press conference last year to now, sitting in my chair looking at the menu screen with the beautiful soundtrack accompanying it, I knew Unravel was a game I had to play. Certainly, I’m not the only one who instantly fell in love with this little red “Yarny” character. Everything about it made me smile, and that’s a quality I look for in a game. While I admittedly enjoy many genres, the ones that tell stories and touch hearts, like this one, are the games that I look for.
For those who don’t know a lot about the game, Unravel is a 3D side-scrolling puzzle-platformer that was developed by a small development company in northern Sweden called Coldwood Interactive. It is currently available on PC, Xbox One and PS4; having been released on the 9th of February. It is a beautiful and heartfelt story about the threads of love and companionship, all told through the adventures of an adorable little character called Yarny. In the words of Martin Sahlin, creative director of Coldwood Interactive, “the yarn came to represent love, the bond between people.”
Unravel opens with a cutscene in which an elderly woman is looking at what appears to be a photo album, possibly reminiscing of memories that happened long ago. Following which, she goes to walk upstairs carrying a basket of yarn, and, unbeknownst to her, drops a red ball of yarn that falls down the stairs, leaving a trail behind that’s still connected to the basket and her. In comes Yarny – a little red bipedal creature no more than 4 inches high and made completely out of yarn. What really sold me on this character is how much emotion and personality radiates from him. If you want to capture the hearts of thousands of people, personifying a creation that’s cute and adorable is a sure-fire way to pull at heart strings (no pun intended). Curious to discover where he is and what stories this house holds, you take control to embark on an adventure, traveling through snapshots of memories shown in the form of photographs.
While there is no narrator to tell the story, and no interaction between characters, the discovery for each part of these photo’s stories is still brilliantly explored through memories that appear briefly in the background – showing what lives these people had all those years ago. Essentially, Yarny transports himself into each level, which are represented by photographs scattered around the old woman’s house, to see the world as it was on the day the photo was taken. As Yarny travels further through each level, snippets of memories appear in the background with the figures looking almost as if they are made up of coloured fireflies, only to disperse once Yarny moves on. The story itself might be a little hard to follow for some, considering its subtle implementation, but as soon as you understand that each level (or photograph) has a story to tell, as you progress forward, it makes it easier to interpret what the writers are telling you.
The first thing I noticed when I picked up the controller is that it’s very intuitive in the way it is played, both in terms of the puzzle solving as well as the controls. If you thought a puzzle should be solved a certain way, you would almost always be right. The same went for the controls. Yarny moves seamlessly from point to point, a lot of the time quite literally when swinging from one anchor point to the next – which you can almost always perfectly swing across to. There are a couple of times, however, where there is only a short opening and where the game prompts you to swing. This process can become frustrating if you end up doing the same puzzles over and over without making progress.
The camera also worked well. For example, at the beginning of a puzzle, or even in the middle of a puzzle, the camera will follow wherever you go, and then, upon completing part of a puzzle, it will pan out to show you where to go. The way Yarny actually swings himself from point to point, though, is by throwing a bit of string and attaching himself to it (which is indicated by little white glowing prompts). There is no reticle to show where Yarny is aiming, but the prompts are visible enough to show what can and can’t be reached. While limited to moving only left and right on the screen, there is enough depth to give off the illusion that you could venture through with little to no limits. This is further helped by the addition of things happening in the background. Which, while blurred, still adds that extra bit of life to the levels.
Visually speaking, the game is undeniably gorgeous and hard to find fault with. The contrast of Yarny’s bright red body against the colours of the various levels looks fantastic. From the orange leaves of autumn to the stark white snow of winter, it’s simply beautiful! I’m personally a big sucker for “pretty games,” so this one instantly won my heart over with its colour and beauty. The music is excellent as well. If you were to separate it from the game, you could still perceive the adventure just by listening to the various changes in tone. For example, at one point, you are required to climb a mountain with rocks, which, for Yarny, are large and dangerous. When all of the rocks come tumbling down, the mood instantly shifts from a calm and gentle tone into a hectic ensemble of instruments reflecting the danger of the situation.
The puzzles you’ll encounter often involve using Yarny’s string as a means of crossing impassable caverns, or for creating unique pathways to access objects in otherwise inaccessible areas. However, Yarny only has so much yarn available before he can no longer move forward. This, in turn, creates an additional obstacle you must keep an eye on. If you go too far, Yarny also appears to lose energy and look as if he is physically drained with only a little bit of yarn remaining on his body (a cute, yet sad thought if you think about it). What did bother me, however, are the moments where this rule doesn’t apply, making parts of the game come across like interactive cutscenes. While they were merely loading screens, at the time, the inconsistency bugged me. One thing I have to mention, too – while not strictly a weapon – one level has you in a swamp where there are bugs constantly flying around. This situation requires you to throw yarn to get rid of them, otherwise Yarny will become slower and eventually stop trying to swat the bugs away.
While Coldwood Interactive haven’t experienced great success with their games in the past, a change of genre and a change of heart is something that everyone can benefit from. Yarny moves seamlessly through the world, almost like Spiderman, and in those moments where you time that perfect set of swings from anchor to anchor, you’ll feel in control and like a pro. There are a few inconsistencies to forgive, as well as some frustrating time-based puzzles. However, from its visually stunning world to the innovative and creative puzzles strewn across the experience, Uravel is a game that anyone who enjoys puzzle-platformers, heart-warming stories, or adorable fuzzy creatures, can enjoy.