This ‘Better late than never’ review has kindly been written by Shaun Sannerude, aka @rudecold
Have you ever popped over to see your Nan, spotted her knitting wool resting on the arm of her favourite chair and thought, “I wonder if the wool comes alive when Nan isn’t about?”… Nope I hadn’t thought that either but somebody at Coldwood Interactive obviously did and thankfully so!
Unravel came out early last year and has sat on my PlayStation for some time due to my ridiculous backlog. However, I’m glad I finally got around to playing this delightfully charming and surprisingly heartfelt game. The game centres around an adorable looking chap called Yarny who is a human-like ball of red yarn (which I guess we tend to call wool over on these shores). Yarny is only about the size of an apple so he’s dwarfed by the world around him and this sense of scale is woven into the gameplay extremely well (like what I did there?). Yarny is completely endearing and has little touches that help you fall in love with him. He will shiver and hold his body when cold, rub his head if something falls on him and when he gets scared his eyes change shape to become more puppy dog-like. You really wish you could have him as your very own pet!
The game begins with an old lady, all on her own, sitting in her comfy chair at home looking out of the window lost in thought. She’s then adjusts a picture of a baby (probably grandchild) on the table next to her before picking up a ball of yarn and heading upstairs. As she does this a lone ball of yarn rolls out of her knitting basket and we are introduced to Yarny. You can then take control of Yarny and guide him to interact with various picture frames within the house to travel to the environments shown in the pictures. Within these landscapes the aim is for Yarny to travel through the level to find a red yarn badge at the end of it which he will add to the front of a photo album back on the kitchen table of the old lady’s house. As you traverse the levels you come across memories that change to pictures which fills the photo album. It’s a lovely way of telling the story as these memories relate to family moments of the old lady’s. Initially, the memories are happy, like picking berries with the family, but as the game progresses the memories shift in their tone to include not only the loss of nature’s habitat but loss of family too. I was surprised by how moved I was by the game as some of the memories make you relive your own childhood and family day outs. The game is also supported by a beautiful Celtic folk soundtrack of violins and panpipes that encapsulates the mood and atmosphere of the game perfectly.
Unravel is a puzzle-platformer at heart and Yarny will traverse the environment by using his body of yarn to create a lasso of rope to form bridges. Yarny can then swing like Spiderman from different points and to be able to pull and interact with the objects within the world. It makes for quite a unique and clever puzzler. Some of the puzzles can be quite complex and is made more challenging as when Yarny moves his twine body unravels and if he walks too far without finding more yarn he will end up as a basic frame and unable to progress any further. Using everyday items to solve puzzles such as a crushed coke can as a step or a plastic bag as a make-shift parachute are really neat touches that create some of the highlight moments of the levels. The general concept of the game, however, doesn’t change throughout the 12 levels that you explore and it can get a tad repetitive as puzzles do quickly lose their creativity. Nearer the end of the game the solutions also become much more convoluted and frustrating as it is not quite clear what is expected of you.
Thankfully, the game is helped by the charm and rich detail of the actual environments themselves that include cluttered woodlands, toxic quarries and crisp snowy fields. Each of the landscapes are utterly gorgeous and the visuals verge on photorealism. There is a faint dream-like haze filter which supports the impression of it being a memory. The snowy levels in particular stand out as the most impressive. The snow physics are very realistic such as when you roll an acorn in the snow, the snow sticks to it so it becomes a snowball and will grow the more you push it. Also, the small caves in this level have a haunting icy blue glow to them that not only looks strikingly beautiful but really does give you an actual chill. There are so many subtle details within the environments that you might not pick up during you play through. Moss will grow on neglected objects, while old wooden floor boards will warp and splinter as you jump on them, and in the background of some of the snowy levels you will see deer naturally going about their daily lives. This all helps create a world that feels real and alive.
Unravel took me around seven hours to complete and that included finding all of the well-hidden secret buttons strewn throughout the levels. To fully Platinum the game you will need to complete each level without dying. This can be incredibly frustrating as there are a wide variety of ways to die whether it be from drowning in a puddle or by being attacked by creatures of nature ranging from crabs to crows. It’s not always helped by the somewhat fiddly and awkward controls and the fact that levels play out a tad longer than they really ought to. Thankfully, this doesn’t put too much of a dampener on the overall enjoyment of the game.
In a year where we have been spoilt with quality indie titles including Rime, Pyre and Little Nightmares, I just can’t hold Unravel in quite as high statue as those games. Maybe if I had played it upon its release in 2016 I would be rating it a little higher. It really is a beautiful and heartfelt game so it is a shame that it is let down by the somewhat lacking and at times frustrating gameplay. Despite these minor flaws I do highly recommend playing the game through to completion. I’ve not played a puzzle-platformer quite like it and it encapsulates the fun and excitement of exploring nature as a child incredibly well. You also can’t help but allow Yarny melt your heart a little. He truly is a memorable little character!
Unravel is a fun and surprisingly long puzzle-platformer that is only let down by being a little frayed around the edges – 7.5 out of 10.