It’s quite difficult to start a review for Unravel without mentioning that it’s published by EA. Seeing a publisher mainly known for blockbuster titles invest in a game like Unravel is unusual to say the least. Fortunately, it seems to have paid off with Swedish developer Coldwood’s intimate adventure.
Unravel’s tiny character, Yarny, is made solely out of red yarn and it uses this to his advantage. He can literally use yarn threads to create ropes to pull himself up and even save himself from a messy tangled up death when falling from higher ground. This thread has other uses such as a swing or when attaching it to certain objects in order to move them.
Scattered all over levels are also points where Yarny can tie a knot using the yarn thread that he leaves trailing behind him. These knots are then used for different purposes, such as connecting two knots in the thread to create a trampoline for Yarny to reach higher platforms. It’s really interesting to experience how such a simple mechanic can evolve to the point that it’s necessary to think about the order that different knots are tied, in order to create intricate thread bridges that wouldn’t look out of place in a thread board, in later levels.
As Yarny moves about each level, he starts to rather appropriately unravel, as he leaves behind a red yarn thread. This creates a clever limitation where it is necessary to consider how much yarn is left when moving.
Fortunately, there is additional yarn thread found at different locations in each level. In lesser video-games this could end up being a frustrating design choice. But in Unravel, it ends up being a welcome challenge. There are points where it’s even necessary to carefully make use of the thread knots ability to ensure that Yarny can reach the next yarn booster. These are also used as a checkpoint and for players to continue from if the level is quit. It’s a handy feature given the longevity of some of the levels.
Being a platform game, a lot of the actual exploring relies heavily on it having a decent control scheme. The decision to make the character jump higher only when moving does make it somewhat awkward to move about at first. Regardless, it’s a minor setback that goes away after playing through the initial level. Making good use of Yarny’s abilities also makes it far easier to move about.
As for the actual puzzles, there is no denying that some might struggle to complete them. It’s clear that Unravel is the sort of game that doesn’t want to constantly supervise players. It’s actually refreshing to complete some of the tougher puzzles without any direct interference from the game. This vagueness can lead to frustration for the less patient players out there, but there is no denying that it makes progression in Unravel satisfying.
In fact, repeated attempts of the same levels resulted in coming up with different solutions for some of the puzzles. It was actually surprising to go back and find different ways of using the knitted hero’s abilities to find better solutions. More than often, it is the simpler solutions that win the day and those that have the patience to make proper use of the tools available won’t struggle.
It’s not just puzzles that Yarny has to deal with. There are various predators eagerly waiting to tear the little guy apart. These range from animals such as crows to man made technology and even mother nature itself. Although the game’s soundtrack has a tendency to change to a faster beat when near such dangers, it still pays to stay vigilant.
Yarny’s journey takes place across various places inspired by real life Scandinavian locations. These breathtaking views feel like they wouldn’t look out of place in a brochure attempting to persuade people to visit the Scandinavia region. It’s charming to explore these locations from the point of view of a tiny character and it makes already breathtaking views that much more special. It’s also inspiring to see vibrant colours being used and the attention to detail makes it clear that it’s making the most of the hardware it is on.
The soundtrack is cleverly used to try and invoke emotions in players of whatever is happening. Each track slowly evolves as the character explores the level. It mostly consists of very relaxed music tracks that fits in with the laid back theme that comes with exploring locations such as the seaside and the countryside. Not that it is afraid of stepping up the beat when it comes to occasions where the character is dealing with immediate danger.
Quite a lot of the story is left to the interpretation of the player. Each level makes use of a memory found within a photo frame located in the main hub. These memories consist of key moments in the life of a family. Several still images appear on-screen in order to display parts of the memory whilst progressing through the level. By collecting a knitted emblem at the end of the level, the character is helping an elderly woman to reminisce on the past. Yet, the still images have no text to accompany them and it’s quite interesting because it might mean that one player’s interpretation of each moment could vary from someone else.
Unravel provides a decent challenge and there are collectibles to find for those that make it through its various puzzles. It’s quite the challenge to find some of these collectibles and it should make for a nice incentive to revisit some of the levels.
Those that are patient enough will find themselves rewarded with a satisfying little adventure with a big heart.