When Unravel was first revealed at E3 2015, I, like many others, fell in love with the protagonist Yarny. The question that remained was would anyone fall in love with the actual game?
Unravel opens with an elderly woman, sitting at a table and gazing at a picture. After a moment she stands, adjusts a picture on the wall, picks up a basket of yarn, and walks up a set of stairs. While walking up those stairs, a ball of red yarn falls out of the basket and rolls down the stairs. So begins the adventure of Yarny.
Unravel is a puzzle platformer that has you taking control of Yarny, a darn cute creature made of, you guessed it, yarn. Yarny uses their unraveling body to make bridges, swing from trees, and pull objects to solve puzzles while traveling across a lush landscape and varied environments. You access levels by selecting a picture from a “hub world” which is the house of the aforementioned elderly woman.These pictures are memories throughout her life, and without too much effort, you can connect the metaphor of what Yarny represents.
The game is gorgeous. The folks at Coldwood Interactive have put together a world that is really something to behold. While all of the levels may not scale perfectly together, the scale of Yarny always seems appropriate. There are a good array of environments and weather throughout the adventure and the story told by the visuals layers well with the metaphor Yarny represents.
In addition to the visuals, the music in Unravel helps create a sense of place. The soundtrack supports the story well without ever getting in the way. Yarny is extremely expressive, and the music reinforces what emotions Yarny is experiencing in each level. This is a soundtrack I will look to pick up in the future.
At this point, Unravel is checking all of the boxes: amazing visuals, great soundtrack, and enough of a story to tie the puzzle-platforming levels together. How did the game play? Not quite as well as I was hoping. That is not to say it was bad, the controls were just not quite as tight as I would have hoped for. Luckily, most of the platforming is forgiving enough that tight controls are not necessary. However, there were a couple points where my failures did not feel like my fault, even if they were. When you have pinpoint controls, you know when you make a mistake. In Unravel, I often felt like I made the right move, with the right timing, but did not get the result I expected. Additionally, there were a few too many “surprise” failures (i.e. a sequence is triggered by you entering a screen and you have to react quickly to survive). I don’t mind these scenarios in games, but when you’re not confident in the controls, it can make them a bit frustrating.
The puzzles in Unravel start out fun, and utilize Yarny’s abilities in cool, interesting ways. The puzzles are not terribly difficult, but there is a sense of accomplishment when completing them. Unfortunately, as the game progresses, the puzzles do not really change or get any more complicated. An interesting angle is that Yarny is constantly unraveling. As a result, you have to pick up small balls of yarn scattered throughout the levels in order to progress. If you use up too much yarn on a puzzle, you will not be able to get to the next ball of yarn. So, you need to backtrack and try to solve the puzzle using less yarn. While an interesting mechanism, I believe it only happened two times in my play-through. It could be because I was thinking about it while playing, but I still expected it to happen more often and showcases how the puzzles rarely left me…well, puzzled.
Overall, Unravel is a nice puzzle platformer, but it does not redefine the genre in any way. If you are looking for a hardcore platforming masterpiece, you may want to look elsewhere. However, if you are looking for a beautiful, fun, pull at your heart-strings game, Unravel might be a good option for you.