The side scrolling platformer is kind of a dead genre these days. They’re still being made, of course. But, they’re usually either deep within a hardcore niche, or they’re trying to tell some dark, indie story with little to no actual platforming. There’s not a lot to offer sitting somewhere in the middle of these two extremes without going back into some classic games.
That’s where Unravel comes in. No one expected Unravel to show up at E3 2015, yet there were more than a few would-be fans excited for the game after it did. ColdWood Interactive’s puzzle platformer marketed itself as a story before a game. Yet, Unravel is actually one of the most endearing and charming platformers I’ve ever played.
You play as Yarny, a sentient yarn doll on the edge. The edge of how much yarn is left in your spool, that is. As Yarny, you travel and discover the life of the old woman that (sort of) made you by collecting photos and patches left behind. At least, that’s what I got out of it. The story in Unravel is largely up to the player. You could conceivably argue that Yarny is an out-of-body vision the old woman has in the last moments of her life flashing before her eyes. Though, I chose to go with the happier of the two options.
That’s because almost every moment in Unravel will put a smile on your face. From Yarny holding on to a kite flying across a beach, to even the adorably frightening rodent attack scene that was featured in the announcement trailer. What’s more, the tone of each level is constantly shifting. While you may be in a colorful, happy forest for the first half of a level, you may find yourself in a dark, rainy industrial area in the second half. Unravel’s charm knows no bounds. Even in the bleakest moments, you’ll find yourself holding onto hope that Yarny will survive.
The game itself actually entirely relies on Yarny. Without it, it would be a typical, albeit very pretty, indie platformer. Through Yarny’s context with the story and its core mechanics, the game takes shape. Those core mechanics being.. Well, yarn. Yarny has a finite amount of yarn in its body before it becomes just a weak piece of string. A lot of levels are based around you going from spool to spool, increasing the length of your line in order to proceed. While the game never gets to a controller-throwing level of difficulty, some of these checkpoints can be fairly challenging. It can be a little off-putting when you see the next spool right in front of you with Yarny mere inches away tugging at what’s left of itself, unable to make anymore progress. Fortunately, I never had any moments where I was too frustrated to finish a segment. I actually found it somewhat cathartic to go back and discover the perfect way through so I had that extra bit of flak in order to hit the checkpoint.
Yarny also has a few abilities up its sleeves as well. These come in the pulling and whipping variety. Pulling the left trigger makes you pull your trailing line, while pulling the right trigger has you throw it out in a lasso faction. Yarny can also tie knots at various mini-anchor points, sometimes making new platforms and spring boards in the process to get to higher locations. All of these abilities are used to their full extent in order to solve the various puzzles you’ll be faced with. While it’s a little upsetting you never learn anything new to do, the abilities you have never get stale as the game is constantly throwing new ways for you to use and even combine them with.
Ultimately, Unravel is a fantastic platformer that anyone can pick up and get something out of. It looks incredible, plays incredibly, and just all around feels perfect. While it does have a few frustrating moments, most of them are perfectly doable after a minimal number of tries. Even the lack of character progression isn’t that hard to get over when you’re playing through Unravel. Every moment is worth playing in this game.
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