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Unravel Review

February 17, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

UnravelScreenshot1

Publisher: EA
Developer: Coldwood Studios
System: PS4 (played on), PC, Xbox One
Released: February 2016

In amongst the usual brand of cynical hype and cringeworthy slogans of E3 2015, there was a rare moment of joy and sweetness. Of all places, it turned up during EA’s presentation, where a nervous developer walked on stage, showed a cute little yarn cat he had tucked in his jacket and then proceeded to show a sweet game about yarn and love and longing. It stunned everyone, including me. I knew I had to play this game.

Unravel finally saw a release this month, and I picked it up immediately. I like puzzle platformers and I like cute things. It’s right up my alley. It’s my jam. And all that stuff.

Unravel didn’t disappoint. I played the first hour on my YouTube channel, where I spent much of my time gushing over the cute animations, the gorgeous vistas and the brain-teasing puzzles. It was, simply, a joy to get my hands on. The game also opens with a heartfelt thank you from the devs which I thought was touching.

UnravelScreenshot2

Let’s talk visuals first. It’s clear that Unravel has been made with the greatest of love and care. Yarny is an absolutely adorable bundle of joy who is surprisingly expressive for his lack of most of a face. He flails, he wobbles, he rubs his head when he’s bonked and he celebrates when he completes a level. It’s hard not to fall in love with this struttin’ yarn boy when he reaches the end of the Sea level, finds a knitted fish, and then proceeds to pet it and hug it.

Environments too are gorgeous. They feel real in many ways, and they tell their own stories. Serene gardens lead to melancholy train stations, while an industrial nightmare zone turns into a chilling winter scene. Everything feels alive, and I felt connected to it all. It’s an absolute visual spectacle that serves an effective dual purpose, and I don’t think there was a single place I didn’t love in some way.

This is coupled with the beautiful folky soundtrack that underpins the whole experience. Very rarely catchy, it still managed to burrow its way into my head on several occasions, and in aiming for the right mood level, it never misses it mark. It manages to leap perfectly between soothing and happy and into dark and moody with ease. It’s wonderful, and all praise to the composers and musicians responsible.

Gameplay is Unravel’s weakest link, although I don’t have quite the same level of harsh criticism as other reviews I’ve seen. There are certainly moments where puzzle design is more obtuse than it needs to be, and instances where the level seems to hide where you need to go instead of guiding you along. There were moments of precision that drove me up the wall a little, but fundamentally the mechanics of Unravel are still excellent. It does little new that hasn’t already been seen in the likes of LittleBigPlanet or LIMBO, but what’s there works for what the game is trying to achieve.

And what it achieves is pulling on the heartstrings so hard that you give in to it. I find it difficult to name video games that have reduced me to tears, but Unravel is one of them. And I don’t mean a few little teardrops I had to wipe away, I mean full-on having to stop and step away from the game because it set me off so much.

Off the Rails was a particular moment for me, where the pensive soundtrack and cold, deserted locations combined to create a sense of cloying melancholy, culminating in an encounter with a fence decorated with lovelocks. This coupled with the text unlocked from level completion led to a situation where I had to leave the game alone for a while and sit quietly contemplating.

Later levels, which discuss other sadder aspects of life, such as death or corruption, continued this sense of grief that gripped me and refused to let go until I reached the end. I felt emotionally invested in this yarn thing and the places he visited, and while reading some of the reviews I feel a little alone in this, it’s a genuine reaction from me that has led the game to leave a lingering impression in my brain.

Unravel is flawed in a few small ways, but from a design perspective, it’s an absolute masterpiece. A cute little game about life and love and loss and longing, it has charm and heart in abundance and I would recommend it to anyone who thinks that sounds even remotely appealing.

UnravelScreenshot3

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  1. February 19, 2016 at 3:49 am

    Visuals look awesome for this game. I have heard that the platforming is a little too “floaty,” is this true?

    • February 19, 2016 at 5:04 pm

      A little bit, but no more so than LittleBigPlanet. Then again, I know some people have issues with LBP too, but I’m not one of those people!

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