Tested On: PlayStation 4
Available On: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: ColdWood Interactive
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Puzzle, Side-Scroller
Official Site: http://www.unravelgame.com
Release Date: February 9th, 2016
Where To Buy: Steam, PSN, Xbox Marketplace
Today we are reviewing “Unravel,” a physics-based puzzle game developed by ColdWood Interactive. This game had me and many others very excited for its side-scrolling simplicity and as a not-so-distant cousin from “Little Big Planet.” Unravel was delightfully marketed with brilliant visuals, an adorable protagonist, and jubilant music. Our protagonist is an anthropomorphic ball of yarn named Yarny (yes, Yarny). He uses his own body of yarn as a means to navigate through the levels and various obstacles. I casually expected to kick up my feet, enjoy the visuals, and tickle my brain with some difficult (but not too difficult) puzzles. However, this is not at all what ColdWood Interactive intended. Upon launching the game, we are presented with a personal message from the development staff about the making of Unravel.
“Games can be powerful things, and they give even a small studio like ours a chance to speak with the entire world as an audience. So with that in mind we figured we had to speak from the heart. That’s how Unravel came to be, that’s why it deals with topics like love, longing, and mending broken bonds.”
Not what I signed up for. I had to completely change my attitude. At this point, I felt less like I was going to play a video game and more like I was getting ready to read a meaningful novel. The game title opens with Scandinavian folk music playing and an elderly woman looking through old photos and scrapbooks. The theme is melancholy and projects a feeling of loneliness. We watch Yarny come to life for the first time (that we know of) as a yarn ball falls out of the woman’s basket, rolls down the stairs, out the front door, and into the beginning of the first level. From here on I understood an obvious metaphor at play: Yarny is emotion and love (hence the shape of his/her heart-head) visiting and navigating through old memories. In all levels, there is a sense of reflection and wonderful memories long gone. Memories missed and longed to be experienced again. And thanks to Yarny, we get to visit this woman’s memories once more. Each level resembles memories from the woman’s past and reliving specific scenes from those tender moments. As levels are completed, we are completing the pages in a scrapbook with thought provoking photos.
Okay I know, you get it, I like the story. Let’s discuss some of the surface value features of the game. The level designs are tidy and the right amount of challenging with easier puzzles and obvious solutions progressing to more confounding obstacles. Visually the graphics are unique. Yarny, being so small means a hyper-focus foreground of grass, dirt, and puddles with an out of focus backdrop of fields, buildings, and water creating an appealing depth of field – a photography technique so rarely used in gaming.
I feel the magnum opus of the title is the music. When games have little to no dialog, music fills in as the voice for all the characters. And Unravel does just that. The music is Yarny’s voice for every interaction and exclamation. Much in the same way that “WALL-E” is music dependent for the characters voices in the first 30 minutes of the film. The cinematic is no jaw-dropper, but its strength is the seamless transition from cinematic to gameplay, making the lack of higher detail unnecessary. The controls are very responsive and simple. Perhaps too simple. We learn Yarny’s two abilities, throwing and grabbing the rope, on the first level and it’s all that is needed to complete the game. This did leave me wanting more and for further uses of yarn to be exploited. Afterall, it’s a bit like rope, and the rope has 466,912 uses. The game environment and models were incredibly authentic and from what I noticed, there were not any duplicated or “filler” models used again and again.
I took my time making a decision about the puzzle’s designs and mechanics. Because this game is marketed as a puzzle game, I wanted to critique the game on its non-inventive puzzle designs and overall low skill level required to solve them. The reason I don’t feel the puzzle’s simplicity is a problem is because it allows the player to focus on the real strength of the title – its story and mood. This game’s strengths are located in its unique metaphor and musical pairing that add up to a surprisingly emotional experience. As my cousin Ian was watching me play he exclaimed, “This game is depressing.” I responded, “Sometimes, feeling a bit sad is good.” This game causes the player to not think so much about the puzzle at hand but the next memories Yarny is about to witness and the feelings associated with them. Feelings of love and longing like ColdWood so accurately explained.
Unravel is worth playing. It’s a unique game with a substantially cheaper cost than other similar titles and is probably pretty different than anything else you’ve been playing lately. I enjoyed the game, and in a world of cookie-cutter titles, something as unique as Unravel is a breath of fresh air.
- Gameplay: Physics-Based Puzzle Side-Scroller
- Graphics: Bright Colors and Immersive Depth Of Field
- Sound: Powerful Music and No Dialog
- Presentation: Smooth Controls with No Glitching or Bugs
- Meaningful Story
- Dynamic Music
- Low Cost
- Beautiful Environment/Graphics
- Simple Puzzles
- Short Story