I’ve always enjoyed platformers, even though my skill playing them is less than optimal. Still the genre draws me, and add an emotionally fulfilling story in, and I’m generally hooked and will push on to the end of the game. Games like Journey, Flower, and Ori and the Blind Forest all suck me in with both their beauty visually and narrative. And it always helps to have an adorable character to play, like Sackboy in LittleBigPlanet or the protagonist in Puppeteer. Now ColdWood Interactive, in partnership with EA, brings us the tale of Yarny, an adorable, little devil like creature made of yarn, who makes his way on a journey through a series of memories in the game Unravel. And how does this game stack up against others in its genre? Quite well, as it turns out. The platforming can be challenging depending on your skill level (And that skill level will determine how long it takes you to go through the game’s 12 chapters. My playthrough took me about 10 hours, but others may finish it in 6.), but it’s the story that will carry you through. It’s a story told without speaking a word, and yet it conveys a powerful tale of love, loss, and family. The fact that the game delivers such an emotionally charged experience without saying a word is the game’s greatest strength, and the reason you need to play this.
Unravel opens with an old woman looking at some photographs, and once she goes off to bed little Yarny makes his appearance. Yarny is small in stature and not very strong, so he can’t fight any enemies he encounters as he takes a journey through several diverse environments that were inspired by Scandinavian locales. Yarny is always tethered to a strand of yarn, and he unravels the farther he travels. Fortunately there are bundles of yarn spaced throughout the game’s levels, ensuring that you won’t be reduced to just a metal wire frame (though you will come close). Yarny uses that strand of yarn to lasso items, swing from points above the ground, and these points can be used to form a bridge in certain spots, useful for making a jump to a higher spot or enabling you to move an object from one place to another. The game’s mechanics are introduced early on, and you’ll make use of all of them on your journey. Some areas can be a bit puzzling on how to proceed, but once you hit on the solution it all makes sense. There are some instances where the game’s platforming shows its limits, especially in areas where Yarny needs to navigate conveyor belts and moving pistons. The little guy often doesn’t move fast enough for these sections, and it can take several tries to successfully navigate these areas. Another section involving dive bombing crows can also prove troublesome, as there is no set pattern for the crows’ attack, making it a matter of pure luck and trial and error to get through. Water can also pose a problem, as Yarny can’t swim. But overall these sections can be conquered, and for myself I fault my own skill (or lack thereof) at platforming rather than any shortcomings in the game. That being said, there are spots where the game is at fault and its platforming can be imprecise, as Yarny won’t properly make a jump or lasso the wrong thing. Thankfully, these instances are the exception rather than the norm, and for the most part the game makes excellent us of its platforming tricks. You’ll do things like lasso a fish to pull you in a small boat across a lake or use a pine cone to make a giant snowball. The game does keep things varied so boredom never sets in.
Accompanying the excellent gameplay are beautiful visuals. The environments are lushly recreated, and filled with an extraordinary amount of detail. Since Yarny is small we experience the world from his perspective, and feel his wonder as he looks around as he makes his journey. You’ll notice little things, like a spider creeping along a rock in the foreground, a snake making its way through the grass, or a herd of reindeer in the background. Each level, entered through a photograph found in the old woman’s home, is varied from the next, with only a couple of environments that carry through consecutive levels. The four seasons are all represented, with a beach in summer, a bog in spring, a field in the fall, and woodlands in the winter. There are also a couple of man-made environments for you to traverse, ones with conveyor belts, automotive garages, and even a toxic waste dump. Each level has scenes you’ll encounter and absorb, which are replicated in a photo album. The levels also contain up to five secrets to be found. The secrets can be easily missed on a first playthrough without a guide, so completionists may return for a second run. Adding to the beautiful visuals is a haunting musical score, one that conveys the proper emotions for each scene. This is a game that can tug on your heartstrings, and is sure to provoke an emotional response from many players.
In all, Unravel is a beautiful experience from start to finish. Its platforming falters on occasion, but any frustrations are easily made worthwhile by the wonderfully told story. The visuals and music are outstanding and make the game that much more special. It helps that Yarny is such an adorable mascot, and he conveys his emotions nicely through little gestures since he doesn’t have much of a face save two white eyes. The animation is stellar, and you can tell this was a labor of love from the folks at ColdWood Interactive (if there are any doubts of that, read their messages at the beginning and end of the game). The game is adorable, challenging, and in the end, emotionally satisfying, And it’s that emotional factor that makes this a must play, not just for fans of the genre, but for all gamers. Well worth your while to check this out.
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