Starting with a wistful, melancholy violin and building in drama as the game progresses, Unravel’s dynamic soundtrack is a triumph, perfectly suiting - and helping define - the tone of the game.
Near photorealistic, yet still wonderfully expressive and creative. The animations of Yarny are superbly expressive, and the fields, flowers, woods and workshops of the levels gorgeously rendered and lit.
While the concept is inventive, Unravel doesn’t do much with its ideas to elevate the game above the average puzzle-platformer. Yet there’s still fun to be had along the way.
Unravel will take you around five hours to complete from start to finish, with the only incentive to replay being collectibles and achievements. It’s just about as long as it needs to be.
Largely focusing on progression, the list also makes space for a nice mix of creative, challenge and secret-oriented stuff too. Plus, searching for the collectibles reveals some of Unravel’s most interesting design. It’s a good list.
February 11, 2016
Unravel is what happens when you take a puzzle-platformer with a neat central mechanic and throw several buckets of visual polish on it. Then when the buckets are empty, you go get more buckets. Then more. Until you’ve got one of the best looking games of the year.
Seriously, Unravel is astoundingly pretty. From the animations of the wonderfully expressive main character Yarny, to the trees rustling in the breeze, the rippling water, the pillowy snow and the hazy sunlight, Unravel is insanely attractive. It’s one of the main reasons people fell in love with the game in the first place. Well, that and the seemingly guileless charm of its director, Martin Sahlin.
Yarny on wire.
When Sahlin first toddled out onto EA’s stage to announce Unravel during E3 2015, a real Yarny clutched in his shaking hand, he won everyone over by being a human in a space typically populated entirely by superpowered salesbots. He introduced the game, stumbled over a few words, looked entirely overwhelmed and bosh - everyone loved him. Unravel is Sahlin’s game, and that humanity and vulnerability permeates the entire experience.
You see it in the wonder and fear of Yarny, who gawps at the pretty scenery and flinches away from butterflies. You see it in the level aesthetics, each environment revealing fragments of a half-remembered life. And you see it when you complete levels, placing snapshots into a sentimental family photo album. Some elements are a little overdone, Unravel can be super soppy. But it’s nice, You know? Unravel is nice.
I’ve put the chatter about Unravel’s presentational fluff up front because it’s arguably the game’s most notable element. The core gameplay itself - lassoing and swinging from branches, dragging and pulling objects, tying bridges and little wool trampolines - is fun enough, but much of it has been explored elsewhere with more complexity. The game may look awe-inspiring, but the design of the puzzles is merely solid.
Unravel’s core new idea is that Yarny is made out of wool wound around a metal frame; with every step, every lasso and every leap unravelling the fuzzy little fella inch by inch. As a result, you can jump, swing and climb around levels, but take too circuitous a route and you’ll get snagged, unable to move forward. It’s a great little concept, but it feels underused. You’ll only run out of yarn if you’ve been super wasteful and the potential of the idea feels wasted.
This is largely to do with how Unravel’s difficulty is pitched. It’s not a tough game by any means. Some of the puzzles are quite satisfying, with their “oh, of course!” solutions, but most are too easily overcome. When I got stuck, it was often because I was pursuing an overcomplicated solution that didn’t exist. I’m not the only one either. Editor Dan grappled with the same problem. I guess we wanted more complexity, but it wasn’t there.
That's not what's meant by a tyre swing.
In fact, the only times you’ll really scratch your head is if you go after all of Unravel’s collectibles (which are secreted away in hard-to-reach corners of the levels) or if you don’t notice that an environmental object is interactive. The latter happened to me once, the result of background set dressing and foreground usefulness being visually indistinct. It was super annoying and one of the few cases where the attractive presentation actually got in the way of the gameplay.
Unravel isn’t supposed to be highly difficult. Sahlin and his team clearly set out to provide a warm hug of a game that rewards more than it stimulates. The relatively simple puzzles were a choice, not an accident. Yet they still left me wanting a little more. As the levels progressed, I waited for the big, multi-stage puzzle that would have me twisting my controller in frustration, then revelling in both the designer’s and my own ingenuity when I solved it. But it never came.
Despite all this, it’s hard to come away from Unravel’s five hour-ish story without being charmed. It’s a fun game, with a decent central mechanic, achingly beautiful visuals, a wonderful soundtrack and an utterly adorable little mascot. It’s easy, but not ridiculously easy. It’s short, but just long enough. It’s mawkish, yet just about pulls it off. And like I said, it’s nice. That may not seem like much of an endorsement, but it’s meant as a compliment. Unravel isn’t perfect. But it is really, really nice.