At first glance, when Unravel was shown last year, I instantly took interest in the “yarn-ified” title from EA. Yarny’s (adorable name, right?!) appearance, somewhere between a Pokemon and Pikmin, caught my attention, let alone the beautiful scenery in the trailers. Everything pointed to a whimsical adventure through locales that are commonplace place to us. Now that the game is upon us, though, did that sense of mystery and grandiose adventure manage to make its way into the final product?
The short answer: yes. A million times, yes! Thanks to a combination of all its parts, Unravel is the whimsical, adventurous game it initially appeared to be. I mean, as soon as the game boots up, the player is greeted with some lovely strings, composed and directed in such a way that invokes a sense of a grand adventure approaching. I fell in love with the music in this game. I mean, it’s easy to see why it was equated that the soundtrack for the title was told like a story. The swells, playful staccato, low tones, drawn out notes, and various other musical mechanics each told a piece of the story as I played through the game.
Beautiful, sad, ecstatic, joyous, melancholy, menacing, memorable: these are just a few words to help describe what I mean about the compositions and their ties to the gameplay and presentation. [Minor spoilers ahead] An example of this, and how the music affects the gameplay of the player, is in a section of the game, towards the beginning, when a hostile gopher appears and wants nothing more than to tear apart little Yarny. Now, in writing, this sounds all so silly, but in this world carefully crafted with visual splendor and the superb musical cues, it turned into something more. Most the time, the music takes a backseat to the visuals while the player solves puzzles and continues on through this familiar-world-made-new. As I guided Yarny along his way through some “caves,” the music startled me with a rush of violins, notes bouncing up and down in a frantic sort of way. It was then I realized I was being chased by the evil gopher from earlier in the level, and I began to run; the music had affected my perspective and caught me so off guard that a somewhat timid situation turned into a radical run for freedom from a menacing monstrosity. If not for the genius audio cues coupled with the excellent compositions and audio work, much of the sense of adventure might have been lost in Unravel. Plus, it wouldn’t have furthered my disgust for gophers. [Spoilers done]
The audio cues and music were strong throughout the entirety of my play-through, treating my senses to a fine musical feast. The visuals somehow match the level of creativity and quality of the audio in this title, as well. My absolute favorite aspect was that most of the locales were commonplace areas that we don’t give a second thought in our day to day lives. Journeying through the back yard, a forest, navigating treacherous caves (which are simply gopher tunnels); the locales are colorful, endearing, captivating, and just plain gorgeous to gaze upon. Every detail in the game captured my attention and never let go. Even the way Yarny unravels (ha!), swings across the screen, or displays his (or her?) emotions is outstanding. Every part of the screen is a visual splendor to behold, and it isn’t just used for eye-candy either: I very much appreciated that collectibles and areas/items to grapple on to didn’t stick out much. Sure, there’s enough “glimmer” to notice when you’re really looking, but there were very few times where something on the screen cried out, “Hey, you latch on here!”
Both the visuals and audio enhance the solid gameplay, which is unique, if a little repetitive at times. Yarny, being created from a stray yarn ball, essentially has a leash. As the little creature ventures out into each memory inspired by a photograph inside an unknown woman’s household, he/she unravels. But fear not! There are checkpoints of random yarn throughout each area, in which Yarny can spin near and reform. Every time one of these checkpoints is passed, the beginning of the unraveling begins anew from the spot; Yarny is tied to the nail or post. This mechanic, tying the string of yarn onto latch points, is the base of the puzzles in Unravel. It is unique, with some very well done areas to figure out, but it ends up being just a tad lacking overall. Each picture (level) also holds five collectible yarn patches, which somewhat help with replay value once the title is finished. But, honestly, when I play through Unravel again, it won’t be due to collectibles – the story and presentation is more than enough to entice another play-through.
The player can tie the string between two nails to create a platform to drag an apple, can, or other small object across in order to reach a high ledge. Tying the yarn between two nails also gives the option for Yarny to spring upward to get to higher ground, or perhaps find a latch point somewhere among the bushes or trees to swing from. Having to tie Yarny to specific latch points, and perhaps going back to untie them once a new one has been found and utilized, is unique – I absolutely enjoy the creativity with the gameplay. Unravel is a platformer through and through, and it’s a solid one at that. My only problem was that it didn’t evolve enough throughout the entire play-through. It was around the halfway point when I began to grow a little tired of the gameplay mechanics. That said, this is not a deal-breaker in any way; it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise outstanding title. What helps to overlook the lack of real evolution in gameplay mechanics are the visuals and creativity of the developers. For example, later on in the game, I was tying my string to two latch points in the ground to push an object over to the other side of a small pit; the item to push, however, started off as a pinecone that I pulled from a tree and began gathering fresh snow from the ground, turning it into a growing snowball. These little visual flares, mixed with a few truly enjoyable new puzzles sprinkled throughout, help keep the gameplay fresh enough.
What captivated me with this game, and will most likely entice me to play-through it again, is the sense of adventure in Unravel. It may sound silly, but I couldn’t help but look at this world in wonder, though nothing about it was truly fantastical in the fictional sense. Backyards, gopher tunnels, trees by a lake, a mountainous trail…most locales were based on some type of realistic scene that we may take for granted in our day to day lives. When looking through Yarny’s eyes, however, the world becomes amazingly new and whimsical. This new perspective did a couple of things: it created an attachment to the little yarn creature and it gave me a newfound view of memories. I liken the gameplay experience to seeing life anew through someone else’s eyes. My son comes to mind, with his view of even what has become mundane in our lives is greeted with wonder and intrigue. In short, Unravel is more than just a game that stirs up emotions in the familiar sense (dramatic events, loss of loved ones, etc.), but it creates new perspective for the player. I have to say, by the end of my first play-through, I got a little misty-eyed at the sentiment and emotion that suddenly hit me. Even though I knew it would be coming (it’s pretty obvious, right?), it still managed to choke me up a bit because I could relate to it. That’s truly where Unravel shines; the player will connect with at least some of the memories explored and experienced in some way. And thankfully, Unravel never loses its sense of being whimsical and invoking wonder.
I incredibly enjoyed Unravel; not necessarily for the gameplay, but rather, for the look, sound, and feel of it. Playing as Yarny, experiencing his creator’s (mother, maybe?) memories and seeing the highs and lows of her life felt like a grand adventure that we can take ourselves. It was a reminder for me to soak in life, whether through my own perspective or someone else’s of the same events. We are tied together in this skein of life (ok, I had to throw in ONE pun at the end), and we can still retain that sense of awe and wonder. I highly recommend Unravel to, well, everyone. Unravel is on the shorter side – I believe my first play-through was around seven hours – but never felt like it wasn’t enough; it never overstayed its welcome, either. If you aren’t into platformers, I’m willing to bet you will find great enjoyment in everything else (visuals, audio, the way the story is told). If platforming games are your thing, then this game will be a solid entry in your game library. It’s a nice little title that will bring a smile to your face, whether due to the adorable protagonist, the incredibly family locales, or the walk through memory lane.
This title was purchased by the reviewer.