There’s a certain appreciation one must have of family, love, remembrance, loss, life, and self to fully grasp the courage and commitment it took to plot out and develop a game as touching and selfless as Unravel from Swedish developer Coldwood Interactive.
There is almost nothing like a game that grabs you. Right from the start, it’s a poetic journey until it has to let you go. Unravel is one of those rare experiences that doesn’t let up from its emotional tug at your heartstrings. And it wouldn’t work any other way. You play as Yarny, a fantastical creature who’s out to collect and restore lost memories and tie broken bonds by clearing obstacles and creating paths with yarn from its body. Understanding this seemingly complex (from time to time) puzzle/platformer along the way will take a few hit-and-miss tries when trying to figure out how to get from one point to the other. In the first hour dying doesn’t seem like a thing, then it becomes apparent that death is certainly part of assessing situations (again, from time to time). But its flow is so meticulously smooth, so flawless in its smarts design choices that finding your way through each uniquely designed level feels nothing like working around a video game, but working around a naturally evolved setting that can be found anywhere in nature.
In fact, Unravel revolves around nature and natural-type scenarios. From crossing a forest to making your way over a hillside, great care was poured into every nook and cranny through the entire process. Grasses and thistle weeds blow in the mighty winds, butterflies flutter about whimsically without a care in the world. Unravel shows us what current generation graphics are all about. And though this is a lower-budget indie title with help from EA, from every single angle it’s nearly impossible to tell that. Faces have understandable emotion that one can comprehend exactly what is going on in their heads just by peering into their eyes.
"There is almost nothing like a game that grabs you. Right from the start, it’s a poetic journey until it has to let you go. "
Following uncompromisingly brilliant graphics throughout, Unravel’s puzzle/platforming is a spectacular success. The completely physics based gameplay allows Yarny to achieve his goal of getting from point A to point B by having the player observe the surrounding area, assess the assets that can be used in any given situation, then attempt to follow through, be it successful or not. Many situations are based on trial and error. When you figure out the perfect formula, execute it properly, and finish off one section, there’s a moment of joy in understanding your accomplishment.
To keep puzzles interesting and different from one to the next, Yarny’s body unravels as you proceed throughout the game, creating links between branches or rocks, forming trails for Yarny to cross. But Yarny can and will eventually run out of yarn from his body which will halter him from completing his quest. It’s through other means such as back stepping, finding alternate routes, and discovering new ways around obstacles to save excess yarn before finding a yarn refill point that adds just that little extra challenge to each environment.
"Many situations are based on trial and error. When you figure out the perfect formula, execute it properly, and finish off one section, there’s a moment of joy in understanding your accomplishment."
It’s amazing what a little yarn character in a world that doesn’t speak its thoughts can teach us throughout the course of this amazing experience. It somehow conveys a diverse aspect of what should truly be important to us: from childhood summers with Mom and Dad, to growing up and moving on. There is a reason this game makes these moments important to the player. Remember. Remember it all. And not only the good times but remember and learn from the bad.
Strong messages about corrupt corporations destroying and depleting nature and its beauty — our rightful environments — have tremendous impact on what Unravel wants to push and pass on to its viewers.
Every memory and story is wonderfully told through abstract visual cues as Yarny makes his way across different locations, slowly revealing memories the lands have stored for Yarny to find, treasure, and return. These memories are stored in a scrapbook at home where pictures within come alive and a few short words give the direction on where the years have gone and what bonds Yarny is trying to tie back together. There’s really nothing quite like it. For those who’ve played Submerged, the story telling is follows a similar approach, but Unravel is much less abstract in figuring out what exactly is going on, though never fully implementing their memories as so the player can relate with his or hers.
"Remember. Remember it all. And not only the good times but remember and learn from the bad."
During the lengthy levels, there are five extra collectables to be found in each of the nine stages. The value these collectables add is acceptable as they are not just hidden here and there, but often found in the least expected places. For instance: high up in a tree where the path doesn’t lead, behind thick bunches of thistle weeds, or deep in a cave where travel isn’t necessary. Scouting out each collectable is a fun little addition for those who want to experience the whole world for what Coldwood Interactive designed it for.
Interacting within Unravel wouldn’t be the same without its touching and well utilized musical score. These notes take moments of importance with the right blend of urgency in dangerous situations, or turn right into lighthearted keys of blissful, heartfelt moments with great discipline. But the score always softens any tone with a cuteness that shines all around. With no spoken dialog, the musical score of a game becomes more important than usual. It not only tells us how to feel, but what situation the player may be in at any given moment pushing the stage along nicely. Coldwood Interactive nailed this inspiring score like no other.
Unravel is a spellbindingly, mesmerizingly, uniquely executed game that only comes around once in a blue moon. Its parallels to yarn binding us to our time on this planet before our demise and challenging us to cherish every moment we have through heavy elements of natural human emotion feels so important. To take part in its majesty, its unrivaled, uncompromising approach to let us know that we lived, we tried, we fought, we lost, we won, we loved, we were, is an honor.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Beautiful graphics, Wonderful physics based puzzles and platforming. A sentimental, deeply profound emotionally satisfying story.
Not many collectables or much to do after finishing the game.