Since ColdWood Interactive’s Unravel made an appearance at gaming conventions in 2015, the game has been on the receiving end of numerous awards. There is no denying the instant charm: an original, cute little platforming character traversing breathtakingly gorgeous levels is definitely a way to attract attention at shows that seem dominated by the next big thing in shooters or action adventures. When Yarny (the adorable little red chap made out of yarn, and the player character in the game) made his first appearance, it was clear that ColdWood was on to something unique and welcomed.
Aside from the odd social media share, and a trailer or two, I didn’t have too many pre-conceptions heading into this game. I feel that may have helped things somewhat, because Unravel is a title that will not be remembered for its myriad game mechanics and constantly evolving gameplay. In that sense there’s very little to Yarny’s adventure. However, Unravel’s indubitable charm lies elsewhere, and it managed to worm its way into my heart.
Unravel is a strikingly intimate game offering glimpses into the lives of a family through a series of photographs. There’s a whole metaphor for how family becomes unravelled over time, and how members drift apart often to heart-wrenching consequences. It’s up to Yarny to string these memories back together by traversing the locations found in the family photographs. This takes place over a series of ten or so levels set in unique locations steeped in the natural beauty found in Northern Scandinavia. The game is sentimental to say the least, but it’s also rather sweet, and I loved spotting level set-pieces in the unlocked photographs once completing a section of the game. It’s definitely a unique concept wrapped around a fairly straightforward platforming game.
The visual design of Unravel is stunning. I felt this compulsive need to take screenshots of the many eye-catching scenes, and by the time the game’s credits began to roll, I’d snapped more than 145. It’s just… gosh, it’s just the most beautiful game I’ve played in a very long time, and the variety of locations and the attention to detail in recreating the lush environments, played a big part in my desire to progress through the six-odd hours it took me to finish the game. If you want to find all the secrets and complete all the Trophies/Achievements, you’ll be playing for WAY longer than that though.
Unravel’s music is also worth a special mention as it provides an emotional aural accompaniment to a game that’s already rather heavy in the feelings department. There’s almost a longing, melancholy tone that pervades the whole of Unravel, and the game’s soundtrack exemplifies those underlying feelings rather perfectly. It’s definitely one of those soundtracks I can see myself adding to my playlist for the next year or so, should ColdWood and EA ever actually get around to releasing a downloadable version of the music that is. I live in hope.
My only gripe with the game is its limited offering in terms of gameplay mechanics. Insofar as platformers go, Unravel is a very competent entry into the genre, but it’s competent around a core set of gameplay mechanics that do not change throughout the whole experience. You will continually need to find new spools of yarn in each level, as Yarny unravels with every step he takes. It’s a good idea, but the idea often gets ignored by the devs during lengthier traversal puzzles, and the whole mechanic gets tired about halfway through the game. You will likewise solve very similar traversal puzzles throughout the game, with perhaps some inconsequential derivatives found here and there (e.g. dragging a rusty can to a location to act as a step, and then dragging a pebble or pinecone to do the same thing in later levels).
There are perhaps three or four unique environmental puzzles that crop up, but the vast majority of the time you’re performing the same gameplay mechanics to solve the same conundrums. Sure, they work, but they get a little old and drawn out in the latter parts of the game.
Look, Unravel is not going to set software charts alight or smash Metacritic records, but the game managed to convey a message and a specific set of emotions, and I feel that the gaming industry is a better place for Unravel’s existence. It’s the smaller, quirkier titles like these that lend variety to this hobby of ours; without the Yarnies of the gaming world, we’d be up to our tits in first-person shooters and racing simulators, and I for one am very glad to have charming little games like Unravel to dilute the AAA fatigue we all mindlessly drudge through every year.
79Unravel is a charming little game with a big heart. It has a message that can often get overshadowed by the amount of nostalgia that oozes from every corner of the game, but quite often that nostalgia is able to stir your own emotions, and I kind of loved the game for doing that. It’s very easy on the eyes, and even easier on your wallet. I’d recommend giving it a go; with an asking price of R200, you’ve got very little to lose.