Every good game needs an adorable hero, and in this EA backed indie puzzler, our hero comes in the form of Yarny; a crimson red person-like “ball” of yarn that unravels as you majestically walk, jump and swing your way through the game. It’s clear from the outset that a lot of love has been tied – excuse the pun – into this game by the developers Coldwood Interactive; but is there enough to warrant a purchase?
As borrower-sized Yarny, you embark on a journey trying to tie together the memories of an older aged woman which will eventually lead to you restoring the old photographs in her photo album. It’s from her house – well lounge area and hall – that you can swing around using your yarn to locate photos to restore. These photos create the basis for the game and once you’ve had enough swinging around you’re all good to go.
It’s difficult not to make early comparisons with what could easily be a distant relative in the shape of LittleBigPlanet. From the games image to the usage of game physics required to progress through a level, however, that’s where the comparisons really end. Unravel is far more streamlined and is more of a casual experience that won’t have you tied in knots, but instead having you wishing for a greater challenge.
From early on Unravel shows great promise. The controls are simple. You can walk, jump and swing using your yarn on various objects within the level. This yarn can also be tied into knots to create homemade trampolines to fire you into the air, or to build bridges to move items. For example, in one of the levels, you have to use an old bottle as a raft to craftily cross the stormy water. However to move the bottle into the water, you need to strategically tie your yarn in a fashion that it will act as a bridge to carry your bottle along. In other levels, animals provide distraction with birds, cockroaches and an annoying gopher finding the opportunity to eat yarn to tasty to pass on. All of this should have provided a good platform to build upon; however there doesn’t appear to be much building.
Very rarely do you feel challenged as a gamer and it really just becomes a matter of course. I’m not saying I completely whitewashed the levels, however, you could count on one hand how many times I felt really challenged and actually had to think about where to place my yarn or what I should move next. In the majority of levels there is only one route to go and it usually goes something like this; move as normal until you reach an elevated ledge that your yarn doesn’t reach, then head back and grab a log, plastic bottle or other moveable objects which will, in turn, allow you up the ledge. Before you know it you’re grabbing the object before you even know its purpose and as a result, I play Unravel with the following motto – if it moves, take it. This becomes a familiar format which could easily be resolved by adding a degree of complexity to the level so that it isn’t so obvious how to progress.
Another part of the game that could have been improved upon is the length of Yarny himself. As you unravel throughout the game, tying yourself into purpose made knots, you run out of yarn so much that you look like you’ve been on a severe diet. Spools of yarn are available throughout the levels to give you more yarn. The idea being that if you use too much yarn building bridges and trampolines, you’ll run out before making it to the next spool and not be able to move any further, ultimately making you retrace your steps to think about how you use your yarn more efficiently. Yet very rarely will you need to think about this as the levels are so linear you won’t have yourself tied into knots. In fact, I think it was only the final level where I had to strategise my game while trying to move a lantern up a snowy hill. This could have been implemented better to make you think more about your moves and provide yet again a harder challenge. To avoid alienating casual gamers who without a doubt will enjoy Unravel, a simple easy, medium or hard difficulty level could have been applied, with the latter having you start with less yarn.
One thing that Coldwood have got spot on is the visuals. Unravel looks fantastic! The landscapes are taken from the developer’s home country of Sweden featuring mountains, lakes, farmland and train tracks to name a few, and have been digitally transformed into the gaming environment. The artistic style is complimented with the ambience of the music in the background. Not one word is spoken throughout your experience yet from the quotes you read, images you see and the land you travel, you are certainly given a vision of the amount of emotion and love that has been poured into this game. It’s difficult not to assume that they got caught up in that side of things rather than the level design itself.
Although supported by EA, Unravel is effectively an indie game so it’s not surprising that there is a lack of multiplayer and/or Xbox LIVE support. This would have been a nice addition to the game; I mean who wouldn’t want to team up with another Yarny to work together and complete the puzzles, but sadly it’s not to be.
It may read like I haven’t enjoyed Unravel due to the lack of any real test, but it’s almost the opposite. I did enjoy it and recommend the game to you if you’re looking for a pleasurable experience that will provide you with some enjoyable gaming hours. However I’m just frustrated that there’s not much replay value to a game that has all the key core mechanics, which if implemented differently, could have me playing for a very long time. The visuals and artistic style of the game is to be applauded and while the gameplay is slick, the lack of any real challenge certainly leaves you yearning for more; that and, of course, a real life Yarny.