Don’t let its appearance pull the wool over your eyes, Unravel is perhaps one of the realest experiences to hit the gaming market in a long time. Developed by Swedish developers Coldwood Interactive and published by EA, this narrative driven platformer/puzzle game hybrid is a refreshing and emotionally packed experience that will equally captivate you and make you want to scream uncontrollably into a pillow.
Unravel is an unusual game, you play as Yarny, an anthropomorphic character made out of red yarn, who must traverse through various settings to uncover memories of love. I won’t go too far into spoiler territory, but the game is full of nostalgia and heartbreak in a way that can be overwhelming at times. The main setting is an old lady’s house, where Yarny unexpectedly pops up. By looking at framed pictures around the house Yarny can venture into the setting of the photo and recover memories that have faded by collecting a knitted emblem, which he then places onto a photo album, unblurring the pictures within. Yes, I know it sounds bizarre and silly, but it’s actually really thought provoking and a beautiful way to tell a story of memories.
Each memory alone doesn’t say much, but once you have completed the game and look back through the photo album it feels like you’re reminiscing with your family. In each stage Yarny has to engage with the environment across different seasons and weather patterns, using platformer style gameplay, but with a twist. Considering you’re essentially playing as pocket lint, there are a few cool mechanics that are unique to this game. Yarny can’t become too unraveled, otherwise he runs out of movement, which he makes up for by being able to swing off certain points and create bridges or sling shots with his body. There are no real enemies to fight, instead there are environmental dangers that need to be avoided, such as birds swooping in open fields, angry rodents underground, rolling waves by the sea, and even toxic waste.
The gameplay is as original as it is blood boiling. One of the least attractive things about Unravel is how frustratingly hard it can be. Many times during my play through I ended up swearing at the screen and punching every piece of knitwear in the house. It’s so infuriating due to the fact you are rarely shown how to do things. I like it when games leave it open for you to figure things out on your own, but there’s a middle ground between hand holding and telling the player to fuck themselves, unfortunately Unravel often falls in the ‘fuck yourself’ camp.
As a hybrid game, the platformer mechanics don’t always compliment the puzzle solving side. There were numerous occasions where I couldn’t solve a puzzle that would result in Yarny’s death, sending me back to a checkpoint. This meant I would have to repeatedly complete the same section to get to the point where I died, only to try more trial and error solutions because the game didn’t tell me how to not die in this circumstance.
All that negativity aside, Unravel is still an absolutely stunning game. It’s one of the best looking games I’ve seen in recent memory, which is all the more commendable considering its genre. The level of detail and the way in which you interact with the world turns the every day into a fantasy wonderland. I also can’t emphasise enough how emotional this game is, there is this innocent yet foreboding sense of sadness the entire way throughout. This is helped along the way by Unravel‘s soundtrack, which perfectly matches the game’s tone and sentiment.
Overall I’d certainly recommend playing Unravel, it features 6 hours of gameplay I won’t soon forget, for better or worse.
Pros: Original premise. Absolutely stunning visuals. Moving soundtrack. Very strong narrative. Puzzles can be rewarding.
Cons: Lack of instructions. Extremely difficult in places. Gameplay frustrations detracted from the tone and story.
The verdict: 8/10
Note: The version I played was on PC, which initially crashed a lot. After troubleshooting and Tweeting to the devs I eventually found the fix was as simple as uninstalling the K-Cite Codec pack from my computer, don’t ask me why, but it worked.