Platform—PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
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At last year’s E3 show, a man named Martin Sahlin and his friend, a little red bundle of wool called Yarny, appeared at the Electronic Arts (EA) press conference to talk about a game he had been making. The poor guy was so nervously excited about his project that he was shaking on stage. He very nearly fainted.
In between stammers and silent prayers to not screw up, Martin showcased Unravel, a puzzle platformer starring Yarny. Inspired by the breath-taking landscapes of his native Sweden, Unravel promised a magical adventure and an emotional experience. The game looked amazing, and we all fell in love with Yarny.
I just wish the game lived up to that promise.
Don’t get me wrong; Unravel is in no way a terrible game. In some respects, the game is excellent and Yarny is still cute as hell. Yet, I came away from Unravel feeling little emotion at all. I was promised feels, and they did not come.
In that respect, the story of the game was little more than an empty shell. At the beginning of the game, an old woman looks nostalgically at some photos, and Yarny is created out of thin air. It then goes through and explores what appear to be the old woman’s memories. That’s literally it. Yarny may be a cute representation of love and the ties that apparently bind us, but they are just not that compelling a character.
There is no sense of tension or drama; we are just expected to look at the old woman’s photo album and feel sorry for her. If you want that from me, you have to show me who she is and why she is so interesting, and Unravel does nothing to indicate that her life was anything but ordinary. I didn’t care, and so I lost most my motivation to continue.
As a platform Unravel offers some challenges, but there’s really not much to rave about. The unravelling yarn mechanic has Yarny lose mass as he moves and solves physics-based puzzles. This adds an element of strategy to the platforming as leaving too much yarn will halt your progress. It’s an interesting idea, but it isn’t implemented often, and rarely did I get into trouble. The puzzles don’t really require innovation, and are occasionally undone by wonky physics, which frustrated me more than once.
The graphics are by far the best part of Unravel. The environments are gorgeous and give a much-needed breath of life to the game, with every frame filled with detail and colour even when rain, wind, and snow are blasted in from off-screen. Yarny himself, in spite of his lack of character, is reactive to the environment and is animated very well—even being shown trying to keep warm in the snow. At a silky-smooth 60 frames per second on PS4, the game is clearly an efficient performer while still pushing graphical boundaries. This is a game I’d love to watch being played. It’s just unfortunate that I was the one with the controller.
Unravel is undoubtedly a labour of love for Coldwood Interactive, and as their first major release it is an admirable effort. The EA hype machine made people stand up and take note, but beyond a pretty veneer and a cute mascot there is little of substance to be found. Even at a launch price of $30.00 I wasn’t satisfied, but if you wait for a sale you may get a bit more out of Unravel.
Don’t tell Martin Sahlin though. He might just have a heart attack.