As some as you may know, I’m not the biggest fan of games published by EA. The last game I owned that was published by them was FIFA 11… Yes, that long ago. However, when I first saw Unravel I knew that I had to get my hands on it. Putting my animosity aside, I decided to plunge into this neat little game regardless of who published it.
Children? Ugh, I hate them.
Unravel is a 3D, physics-based, side-scrolling puzzle platformer set in Sweden and is developed by the Swedish dev team, Coldwood. The game sees you assume the role of Yarny, a small bipedal creature made from a single thread of yarn (hence the name) who sets out on an adventure to collect the missing pieces of an elderly woman’s diary-journal-scrapbook thing. The game is like Journey in the sense that it tells a story with no words, using visuals to relay information which are open to be interpreted by the player. The game comes with around ten levels which are more designed around fun than difficulty. Some levels offer a few puzzles which are more vexing than others, but overall the challenge of the game is relatively low. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing and allows for simple enjoyment of the game experience.
As you complete levels you start to fill in the diary and get the opportunity to view beautifully-detailed photos with inspiring proverb-like phrase that basically explain what the story of the given level was. Though it doesn’t say too much, it does give some insight as to the general themes of the scenarios playing out. The obscurity continues with detailed pantomimes played out in the background via firefly lights. Are they experiences from the developers themselves or just sheer fabrication? Who knows? There’s a whimsical, almost dream-like quality to the storytelling that’s an absolute delight.
Visually speaking, this game is impeccable. Most games of this nature embrace a unique art style that utilises assets that are less demanding in terms of system resources (cel-shading for instance or hand-drawn art like in Ori and The Blind Forest), but this is where Unravel differs. Coldwood have done a fantastic job making this game as beautiful as they could by leveraging the full power of Sony’s proprietary PhyreEngine, and the results are nothing short of jaw-dropping. Landscapes are astounding and burst with colour and life, there’s a prodigious use of lighting and a superb amount of detail packed into every square pixel of the game world. In a smart move Coldwood have also eliminated the need for a HUD, meaning you are free to admire your surroundings without visual clutter. As odd as it sounds to describe a game set in a fabricated fantasy world as photorealistic, that’s exactly how it feels. Unravel is by far one of the best looking games I’ve played from this generation.
Whether you are traversing through playful areas or venturing into more treacherous terrain, the music accompanying everything you do is perfectly fitting. The music changes to match and enhance the gameplay, creating its own unique atmosphere. The stringed instruments used resonate and convey beautiful melodies and harmonies which aid in the telling of the story. The score seamlessly changes from bright, major keys to darker, minor keys that highlight the tonal shifts occurring in the game. There’s a great sense of contrast and it works beautifully in tandem with what’s happening on the screen.
“Music is one of our most important storytelling tools, especially since Unravel’s story is told without words. In lieu of dialog or text, music becomes the voice of the game. It sets the tone and inspires you to think and feel. We leaned heavily on the soundtrack, and needed it to be able to carry the weight of some pretty big tasks. It needed to be capable of both breaking and mending your heart, all without spoken words.
Because of this link between story and music (and Unravel’s setting in Sweden) we decided to turn to local composers we could work closely with. They share our roots, and understand what we’re trying to say with our environments. They were also able to dig into local folk music to help make something that feels very distinctly and uniquely Unravel. “ – Martin Sahlin from Coldwood
Unravel utilises a few neat little gameplay mechanics which make the experience all the more enjoyable. For one, there is always a tail of yarn that trails where you walk. This acts as a limitation to the distance you can walk before you have to reach a new spool and refresh your yarn. Attempting to forgo the fresh thread of yarn will result in Yarny not being able to progress any further, it’s at this point you will have to backtrack to restock your yarn before setting off again. The second mechanic is that you can tie your yarn to points that you can swing off; tying the yarn to two points in relatively close proximity will cause the creation of a ‘yarn bridge,’ allowing Yarny to walk over. Yarny can also use the tension to slingshot to heights that were otherwise unreachable. It is here where the physics of the game really shine, where movements are fluid and the use of momentum makes sense. The game utilises these mechanics liberally over the course of the entire game, especially the yarn bridges, which are often the answer to numerous puzzles.
It’s not all sunshine and balls of yarn though, and the game isn’t without some minor flaws. Most of the scenarios depicted to you in the background don’t make too much sense until you complete the level and read the phrase in the journal. I found myself often confused as to what the scenarios actually meant. Sometimes when you reload from the last checkpoint, the music will try to loop, but fade out temporarily. This can be a bothersome issue as the game does rely heavily on the accompanying music. Neither issue is game-breaking, but do tend to pull you out of what is for the most part a beautifully engaging experience.
No. Thank you, Coldwood, for such a fantastic game!
Unravel is a breathtakingly beautiful game which tells the story of the life of an elderly woman in interesting ways. While the story is intentionally a little vague and ambiguous, you get the impressions of subtle themes and experiences through music, proverb-like phrases and scenarios depicted in the background. Coldwood have done a superb job making this an incredibly engaging, cute game that embraces and celebrates simplicity and a sense of innocent fun. This is a great little title to get lost in and comes highly recommended.
Reviewed on PS4