Last November while I walked the showroom floor at PAX Australia a small banner caught my eye. The picture depicted a sunny meadow teeming with life and begging to be explored. Standing front and centre was an interesting character – made completely of red wool – he stared out, breaking the fourth wall. It was my first time seeing Yarny and the game Unravel. When the demo drew to a close, I knew I had seen something special. In just 20 short minutes I been drawn into a magical world of plat-forming beauty and felt like I was already invested in the little characters journey, despite the lack of detailed story or dialogue. February 9 finally arrived and it was time to close my office door, throw on my headphones and submerse myself into this wooly fellas world.
The first thing you notice when starting the game is just how much effort and tenderness has gone into it’s development. ColdWood Interactive have poured their heart and their soul into this game, evident from a personal message from them to you – the player. It’s in this simple, heartfelt message that you remember you’re playing a game developed by a smaller team. Big and talented enough to build something unique, but small enough that everyone’s fully invested. Unravel is a work of passion and it’s conveyed throughout the entire game.
Conveying emotion in games can be achieved in a multitude of ways, whether it’s through dialogue, music or the visual design elements and the truly great titles manage to pull all of these things together. Unravel challenges itself by removing dialogue, making Yarny illustrate how he or she’s feeling with more subtle effects. It’s in this area that Coldwood have excelled. The game commences with a short cutscene of an elderly woman sitting at a kitchen table and staring at a photograph. She gently brushes a thumb across the glass and her eyes fill with tears. After laying the photo down she makes her way to the staircase and straightens a hanging picture before ascending. A ball of red wool falls from her basket and rolls across the floor. Moments later Yarny emerges, climbing a chair and as the camera pans back to show the player the house, Yarny too looks about. This is Yarny’s origin and he’s about to explore the world and take us along for the journey.
The story is told through the use of photographs, of which are located around the house you start in. The house acts as a hub and you return at the conclusion of each level. From the beginning it’s not clear what you’re heading out into the world to accomplish. Each level begins with a brief photograph which slowly fades away. As Yarny makes his way through – traversing dangerous obstacles and running from animals – what can only be described as memories, appear. Made of glistening colours like an oil painting in the games background. Yarny slows his pace briefly and stares, before the image shrinks into a small glowing ball, which he catches, before continuing on his way. Each level sees Yarny retrieve an object, made of the same red wool as him. You return to the house and each retrieved item is added to the front of a photo album. The conclusion of each level adds photos and a beautiful, poetic message is inscribed.
Unravel is a gorgeous game and each of the levels are uniquely styled both visually and how they have been scored. This is a game which demands no distraction, I suggest headphones or similar when playing, to really submerse yourself and experience it as was intended.
On the story front Unravel really delivers, pulling at the heart strings and achieving what any form of good art does … enable you the observer to interpret meaning and purpose as you see it. Not simply someone else’s vision. Unravel is a platform puzzle game, with all the inventiveness and originality flying about, a game in this category also needs to be grounded. Especially when traversing the level requires complicated manoeuvres and a reliance on accurate physics. It is in this area that Unravel does just that. Unravel. The puzzles are challenging but not infuriatingly difficult, but there are certain areas requiring quick action, making the soft floating movement of Yarny to cause some issues. I first experienced this when I had to outrun two large rocks. The only way to not be squashed, required moving a small can and taking refuge under a ledge. It took me countless attempts, because Yarny wouldn’t interact with the object. He needed to be facing it at an exact angle and distance. This is a common occurrence in games, but it’s extremely frustrating when you can’t beat a section, not through lack of skill, but instead due to a fault out of your control. For me this was the only area I could fault the game, as a puzzle platformer alone – story aside – it has some rough edges and will cause frustration for some.
Unravel is all about the heart, telling a story of love and longing. The last inscribed message you’ll see – after finishing the final level – is endearing and really helps tie off the experience you’ve no doubt had, playing the game.
Love forms bonds, like strands of yarn.
Like yarn, those bonds can be fragile, or get all tangled.
But when they’re kept and cared for, they can bridge any distance.
When I finished Unravel I sat back and let my experience really sink in. I had high hopes for the game since first seeing it revealed. I knew very little of what Yarny was or why he was out exploring the dangerous world outside his home. After seven hours solving puzzles and filling a photo album hand-in-yarn with this tiny red hero, I still feel myself pondering meaning and purpose. Unravel has made me stop just moving forward and has encouraged me to look at the places, people and experiences I’ve had. It’s helped me to see joy in the simplest of things and for this I’m truly happy I spent time exploring this charming game.
Unravel is out now on PS4, Xbox One and PC. This review was completed on PlayStation 4.