To bring a video game’s protagonist to life and have us identify with them through narration, acting, and situations they’re in, is not easy. To bring a piece of wool string to life – a shaped cat-like ball of yarn, and make us identify with it is a rare gift. From the very beginning, Unravel will ‘unfold’ before your eyes and tug on your heartstrings, the game’s obviously a labor of love from the game’s creators, so warmly transferred with precise inspiration. There is no doubt that this isn’t the kind of game you come across often. True, it is a platformer with mechanics based on the laws of physics and, at first and second glance, seems like a deja vu. But after a few minutes of playing, even with noticeable likeness to similar titles, this pleasant game’s sincere authenticity will surely win you over.
The game you will undoubtedly compare Unravel to is Limbo. True, at first glance they don’t seem alike since Unravel is a bright and colorful game, permeated with extraordinary musical compositions, but in time you will notice the genius puzzles and the use of physics is quite like the one from Limbo. The main character is Yarny, a cat-like creature made from red wool (cat and a ball of yarn, get it, ha-ha?) and he is on a somewhat unclear mission to collect memories and mementos of a family. You are placed in a warm home of an unnamed granny and through photos she keeps at various places you gain access to memories and collect the family album. The story hides a message you will get closer to as it progresses, but what’s more important than the ending is Yarny’s journey which can in one word be described as – art. Because art engages both hearts and minds of those observing it. And that is exactly what this game is. A masterpiece born out of love of its creators. Although, I might have gotten a bit overemotional here, so I might be just talking nonsense…
The game’s main mechanic is based on the use of string to solve various physics-based puzzles. Yarny goes through levels while leaving behind a ‘tail’ of yarn, slowly unraveling himself. The player must constantly think how to spend the least possible length of yarn before coming across a smaller ball of yarn to ‘refill’ the main character. When the yarn runs out, Yarny doesn’t die but simply can’t move any further and is forced to go back and choose a different path. Although the game has its limitations and it demands that the players think things through, it’s not an intense experience but a calm, measured journey of a small woolly creature.
A journey through what? Through beautiful, wonderfully designed levels. You might expect some fantasy world with mythological surroundings, but Unravel found inspiration for its design in every day, hidden corners of the real world. Yarny will travel through gardens and forests, sheds and swamps, and even those locations will look truly magical from his tiny perspective. Every pebble and flicker of dust on the evening sun will gain significance in Yarny’s world. Moreover, not only visually but through puzzles as well, every next level will bring a new dose of innovation. By going through ten unique and detailed levels, there is no doubt that Yarny will find a way to the player’s heart. Assuming that they have one.
Sadly, even this jewel can’t miss out on a few flaws. When it comes to the quality of platforming elements, Unravel falls far behind its serious competitors. You won’t feel that dose of control and challenge that typical platformers usually strive for. Truth be told, when in now distant 2008 somewhat similar Little Big Planet appeared, we didn’t care about the quality of the platformer part of the game, because our eyes were glued to the incredible spectrum of creativity the game had presented. Sadly, here we can’t help but be a bit more harsh and objective. The platformer elements of the game, combined with the design of some levels can be boring and even tiresome. Luckily there is still the amazing charm with which the game suppresses these flaws far from the boundaries of bearable, deep in the area of plain gaming joy.
The background music is an atmospheric inspiration for anyone who appreciates high quality approach to audio which builds up the “gaming mood”. In other words, the music is spectacular. Maybe it’s not something you could listen to in public transport, but serving as the melody which draws the player into the game’s world which it so boldly glorifies, the music is spot on. Bright themes that develop into gloomier ones and vice versa, composed of cheerful sounds of a violin and background guitar are undoubtedly responsible for immersing the player into the hidden world of Unravel. The game’s soundtrack is spot on and doesn’t miss a single note.
Unravel is a game that would put anyone who tries to define it at the end of a string, just like Yarny running out of wool. Although it eagerly and sincerely rushes towards being a gaming perfection, visually ensnaring anyone who can appreciate art, it keeps tripping on some of the basics of gaming. It shines in the fields of graphics and sound, and draws out a smile with its smart puzzles, but Unravel easily forgets the core that a video game should have and tightens its red string to the point of breaking. Even if it’s a highly above average game, with a well earned grade of 7.5, I can’t help but allow the subjective righteous artist in me to raise the grade by a bit. Therefore, in the form of two white circles, like the curious eyes of a red woolen cat, rises a proud noble 8. This game definitely deserves your attention. It will relax you, make you smile, and make you feel emotional. So don’t let some stuck up critics like us with our overrated strictness sway you from something so beautiful and unique.
Author: Milan Živković