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Unravel

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Coldwood Interactive
Release Date: Feb. 9, 2016

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PS4 Review - 'Unravel'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 9, 2016 @ 5:00 a.m. PST

Unravel is puzzle platformer that introduces Yarny, a tiny, new character made from a single thread of yarn, who embarks on a seemingly larger than life journey through the breath-taking, lush environments of Northern Scandinavia.

Buy Unravel

My first real experience with Unravel was when it was shown at E3 2015. In a show full of slick presentations, the Unravel presenter stood out for being so unashamedly heartfelt and enthusiastic. It was hard not to smile when you saw creative director Martin Sahlin's excitement as he showed Unravel for the first time. It wasn't the shiniest game at the show, but it was one of the most honest. That same sense of enthusiasm permeates the final product. Unravel isn't going to redefine gaming, but it's an unmistakable labor of love.

In Unravel, you control Yarny, a sentient cat-like yarn creature, as he looks for lost pieces of a scrapbook. Through Yarny's travels, you experience the good and bad memories of a lifetime. The game doesn't shy away from depressing material, but it also doesn't linger over it. Perhaps the only odd part is the middle section, which takes on an odd and very personal event involving a toxic waste hazard. It's the one area that felt out of place, but there's no faulting the atmosphere, which is charming and delightful even as it tugs at the heartstrings.


As you'd guess, Yarny is made of yarn, and that is his primary advantage over the dangers of the world. He has the ability to throw a yarn lasso that can connect to spots of red yarn in the environment. Once connected, he can climb, drag or swing. If two yarn hooks are close to each other, Yarny can attach the two objects together or create a yarn bridge to slingshot himself into the air. These simple abilities go a long way, and before long, you'll use them in a lot of creative ways. Attach a yarn bridge to a switch and another yarn hook on the ground, and you'll hold the switch down. Attach one end of a yarn bridge to a hook, and you can rappel down a seemingly impassible cliff. Your abilities are simple, but the game is good about having you use them in complex ways.

Yarny's lifeline is as long as the attached yarn string. As such, Unravel is about going from yarn spool to yarn spool to refill his supply, so he can move forward. Each yarn spool is a checkpoint, and Yarny refuses to move beyond a certain point if he doesn't have enough yarn. You almost never run out of yarn, but when you do, it doesn't feel like a natural roadblock because Yarny's string is as long as the plot dictates. Logic doesn't seem to play a part in figuring out how to get a few extra inches to reach the next checkpoint. Usually, I simply had to tie a yarn bridge in a different way. In one instance, I had to use more yarn, which didn't make any sense. However, I did like that the yarn provides a quick backtracking option. Since the string follows Yarny at all times, you can backtrack and climb up if you fall off a platform or make a mistake; this saves a lot of time and takes the edge off of potentially dangerous platforming segments.

Unravel continues to introduce new ideas right up until the end of the game, and each level is distinct. In one level, you might have to dodge angry birds who want to yank Yarny to his untimely doom. In another, you make your way through a frozen landscape where you create giant snowballs to knock down obstacles. In yet another, you travel through a blizzard and must keep a lantern with you at all times. While the game isn't very long, it feels fresh the entire way through. The core gameplay mechanics are simple, but you never use them the same way for very long. I enjoyed how frequently the game threw a new concept at me, whether it's avoiding lightning bolts that would electrify power lines or avoiding cockroaches that want to devour Yarny.


The second half of the game is noticeably shorter than the first half, and the only disappointment is that several puzzle concepts barely got touched. Some are explored in the optional token collecting, but even then, the tokens felt significant less hidden than they did in the first half. Once you retrieve the sixth token in what is probably the lengthiest segment, the game slowly winds down. The following levels are certainly not poorly designed, but they're over so suddenly that I was waiting for more. Some cool gameplay mechanics are introduced near the end of the game, but they only get a single showing that feels more like a tutorial than a real puzzle. I finished the game in about five hours, and I'd say than most of that was the first half, with the second half taking about 20 minutes a level.

There are also cases where a puzzle must be solved in the exact order the game expects, even if the alternate solution is just as valid. For example, I had to create a linked yarn bridge to move an object. If I started the yarn bridge from the right, it wouldn't connect, but it worked fine if I started from the left. This is most noticeable with puzzles that take you to the end of your yarn tether. I would sometimes get caught at the very edge and be unable to reach the next checkpoint, but the solution was that I needed to tie my yarn in a slightly different place. In others puzzles, I had the correct idea but wasn't doing it in the desired order. In a few cases, the game's physics wouldn't respond in the proper way until I re-did the exact same solution. The delay wasn't more than a few moments, but it sometimes made me think I was doing the wrong thing.

On top of that, I'm fairly certain that it's possible to skip entire puzzles. More than a couple of puzzles had a clear solution that I was working toward when I discovered that hanging off the edge of a nearby ledge and swinging back and forth would give me enough momentum to fly over the ledge I was trying to push a block toward and skip a significant chunk of the area. In some cases, this is expected (I got a Gold Trophy), but in others, I wasn't sure whether I'd accidentally broken the game. On the one hand, this is pretty cool since it encourages you to think of your abilities in a variety of ways. On the other hand, it makes it tough to tell when you're overthinking a puzzle and when you've accidentally discovered an exploit. There were a couple of simple puzzles that took longer than they should've because I was trying to do complex rope tricks instead of something more straightforward. The game isn't always great at communicating when you're doing the right thing.


As I've mentioned, Unravel isn't particularly lengthy. A first playthrough will probably take an afternoon, and there isn't a ton of replay value once you know the puzzles. There are hidden secrets located in every stage, but they're just collectibles, and the hardest part is figuring out where they are. Some are out in the open, and others require you to complete complex puzzles, some of which use mechanics that aren't utilized elsewhere. It's fun to go for them, but you're still going to see everything the game has to offer rather quickly.

Unravel is an absolute treasure to see in motion. The environments look phenomenal. They're all set in mundane places, but the art design is through the roof, and every area feels interesting. Even similar areas, like frozen landscapes, are well designed enough that you'd never mistake one for the other, and it was often breathtaking to explore the simple levels. The star of the show is Yarny. For a simple yarn figure, he's absolutely brimming with personality. He glances around nervously in spooky areas, pretends to surf when riding a floating log, hunches down uncomfortably in the pouring rain, and glances fearfully behind when running away. In short, he feels like a living being and not just a player avatar. It's a testament to the quality of the animations and the character modeling that a simple yarn doll can convey so much emotion. The soundtrack certainly does its share of the work. The music is simple and atmospheric in all the right ways and sets the tone for every scene. It's calm and collected when exploring but kicks into high gear when things get dangerous, and it helps set the mood perfectly.

Unravel is pure charm from start to finish. It's not going to redefine the platformer genre, but it's a wonderfully atmospheric and enjoyable title with solid gameplay and delightful visuals. Sometimes, a heartfelt game is enough to make you smile. A short length and some annoying quibbles detract a bit from the experience, but it never lingers on any one idea for too long. Yarny is one of the most adorable game characters, and his adventure is certainly worth experiencing for gamers of all ages.

Score: 8.0/10



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