There’s something therapeutic about swinging around like Spider-Man as a little figure made of yarn while a soft score plays in the background. From the very beginning, this is what I found Unravel to be. There are a few action set pieces, but a lot of relaxing moments spent chasing memories and solving puzzles. Unravel puts the player in control of Yarny, the cute little fellow we all fell in love with when the game was first presented at E3, 2015. In Yarny’s shoes, the player must work their way through several puzzle/platforming levels, all inspired by different in-game picture frames that are missing their images. At the end of each level, Yarny finds a yarn memento that returns these lost photographs to the scrapbook that the whole game revolves around. The levels range in environment from a workshop in the middle of the night to a lake in the afternoon, to an evening snow storm. The different settings keep things fresh in an aesthetic way, while the gameplay somewhat stalls out. Unravel, while on the shorter side, presents the gamer with easily digestible levels, allowing them to break up the game into bite sized chunks, which is a nice reprieve from some of the other titles on the market nowadays.
Unravel is absolutely gorgeous; its environments are beautifully designed and textured, and the way Yarny showcases the world around him is astounding. Yarny also has an uncanny ability to display emotion in a way I never thought a yarn figure could. The way he shakes while in the cold inspired me to get him closer to the end, while when he was being dive bombed by crows, I had a swift desire to get him to safety. His emotion conveys the beauty this game has to offer. Everything in the game pops off the screen, from the greenery of the woods to the stark shadows of night, to the white of the snowstorms. The animals in the game behave in a lifelike fashion, and it’s easy to see exactly what they are and how they would behave if they found a moving ball of yarn (I can attest, my dog would tear it to pieces!). The game really tries to be innovative with how it handles physics-based puzzles. Typically, the beginning of a level will showcase a new type of problem, and throughout the level, the complexity will get more and more difficult. However, the problem is never really too hard. Quite often, I found myself way over-thinking it, and laughed at myself when I realized how simple the solution ended up being. The game tends to recycle the same types of puzzles after the third or fourth level, just in different settings. It loses its ability to really confound the player, as by then, they’ve seen it all before.
The score of the game is perfect to a T. Overall it is very soft and slow, and enduces an incredibly relaxing state for the player. During the few action pieces, it ramps up and drives the player forward, instilling a sense of urgency to shepherd Yarny to the next segment. The musical pieces compliment the environments nicely, as they work hand in hand to put the players in the perfect mindset. While these are great, there are quite a few drawbacks to Unravel. The hub world is set in the living room of Yarny’s owner’s house, and the player must guide Yarny around the house, finding the next level in the form of a photo. This wound up being incredibly confusing, as there is nothing that points you in the direction of the next level. You simply must check each and every photo until you find it, leading to some frustration early on.
Unravel also has a limited story. The game hints at a central theme, but it left a lot to the imagination of the player. I understand that Unravel is meant to be a therapeutic puzzle game, but give me a reason why I’m braving these types of stages to fill in the blanks. On top of the lack of a defined story, Unravel has just a few pieces that feel… off (looking at you, bird sequence). The game felt like it had much more to offer. The puzzles could have been much more difficult, and the story a little more fleshed out. While I’m happy with my experience, I’m just a little torn thinking about what it could have been.
Overall, Unravel was a solid game. It gave players the feel of Spider-Man in a different setting, and served as a softer, more thoughtful game. With an incredibly beautiful setting and detailed, rich environments, the game pleases the eyes. The score fits the game nicely, and gives the player a solid accompaniment as they play through each stage. Even though the game has a few setbacks, including questionable set pieces, a lack of story, and some wonky platforming at times, it does deliver. While my expectations after E3 may not have been fully satisfied, I still had a lot of fun with what Unravel had to offer.