Unravel is an adorable puzzle platformer from Coldwood Interactive. The main premise is that you’re a small red creature called Yarny, who is unsurprisingly made of yarn. Yarny is the size of a child’s toy, which makes traversing familiar spaces such as the beach and the woods a far more daunting task. Thankfully Yarny has plenty of tricks up his sleeve to help him survive in these inhospitable environments.
Your task is simple, make it to the end of each level to retrieve a treasured memento. Along the way you’ll have to solve puzzles and navigate your way through some pretty tricky platforming. You also have the optional task of locating 5 missing flowers in each of the ten levels, which helps add to the replay value.
Price: $20 (CAD)
Genre: Puzzle platformer
Approx length: 6-8 hours
Developer: Coldwood Interactive
I really must start by saying what a gorgeous game this is. The art style is spot on, with Yarny’s bright red colouring providing a wonderful contrast to the background, particularly in some of the darker levels. The levels themselves are predominantly outside and the sense of scale is fantastic. There is a nice mix of natural settings and more industrial backgrounds, with each of the levels having a distinct style.
Yarny has a lot of personality. His animations are adorable. He shivers when it gets cold, shakes himself if he gets wet and stumbles if he trips on anything. There are so many little flourishes like this that show a real attention to detail and help sell the notion that Yarny is a physical object interacting with the world.
One other nice touch is the ‘memories’ that you find. On each level there are one or more of these and they take the form of fireflies, swarming to briefly reveal an image before just as quickly disappearing. They really help to tell the story through showing you what happened, rather than through exposition heavy dialogue (of which there is none). Speaking of the story…
As mentioned above, the story of Unravel is told entirely through memories, using mediums such as photographs and small hand written notes. It’s a very touching tale and surprisingly deep for a game of this nature. It feels as if you are reading someone’s personal journal or looking through their photo albums without their permission. There’s an underlying theme of love and the bonds that bring us together, which ties in nicely (sorry, couldn’t help myself) with Yarny filling the levels with his signature red string. It’s nice to see a game tackle these more mature themes with grace, it gives me hope in a sea of AAA titles about dudebro space marines on a murder rampage.
One thing worth noting is that the game isn’t story heavy, there aren’t pages of text or an elaborate backstory to sit through. It is happy to leave a lot up to your interpretation. While I considered this a plus not everyone might feel the same.
Gameplay is the area where Unravel stays closest to convention, with a fairly standard platformer moveset. The jumping is suitably precise, meaning that any platforming errors are typically of your own making. I did occasionally find myself trying to double jump over the wider gaps, which unfortunately for my wooly avatar is not a mechanic in this game. It took several deaths to reinforce that particular point.
There are a couple of additions to the standard formula that are based around Yarny’s unique composition. He can throw out a string that grapples onto pre-determined points and allows him to swing across large gaps. The physics here feels spot on, with Yarny having a tangible weight and slowly gaining momentum the longer he swings. If you master this mechanic you can swing through large sections of the level without ever touching the ground, like a small woolen Tarzan. Yarney can also tie string between two points, creating a bridge or a springy trampoline. This gives the levels a nice verticality.
Yarny trails string behind himself at all times, which snags on the environment and allows you to climb back up to higher ledges you previously visited. This also creates another interesting mechanic, with Yarny having a limited amount of string to trail behind him. Sometimes the exit is within sight, but cannot be reached due to insufficient string. This requires backtracking to find a more efficient route through the last section, or finding one of the many balls of yarn that extends Yarny’s reach. It’s a fun way to mix things up and makes you think a little more about your route, rather than just endlessly running to the right.
While I would classify Unravel as more of a platformer than a puzzle game, there are several puzzles scattered throughout the game. These range from standard platformer style puzzles, such as finding a block to reach a ledge that’s just out of reach, to more complex affairs.
The more complex puzzles are the one area of the game that I would say is not as fun as the rest. The solutions are just slightly obscure and are often the only time in the game a particular mechanic is used, meaning the answer is not readily deduced without a leap of faith or a lot of trial and error. Other puzzles appear to be one thing, but are actually something else. An example is the darn field full of crows (you’ll know what I mean when you get there!) Earlier in the level you have a similar field, where timing your runs between the crows swooping down was the secret to success. The next time a similar field appears I assumed the same trick would work, only to end up extremely frustrated when several dozen attempts proved unsuccessful. I just figured my timing was off, but eventually I gave up in frustration. I won’t spoil the eventual solution, but I eventually googled the answer, only to find I was doing the wrong thing all along. It’s little niggles like this that create frustration and pull people out of the world. They aren’t game breaking, and there are only a handful of puzzles like this, but in a game that is otherwise so polished and well thought through they stick out for all the wrong reasons.