Looks and sounds divine but the gameplay doesn't quite match the tone
Available formats: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Unravel is a puzzle platformer where you play as a character named Yarny made from, you guessed it, yarn. He unravels as you play, which, according to the developers, is a metaphor for life. As you might expect, yarn plays a big part in how you traverse the world and it proves to be both a hindrance and a flexible tool.
As you move through each level, you leave a trail of yarn behind you, with Yarny becoming first unnervingly skeletal and then unable to proceed at all. You must try and take the most efficient route through the level in order to reach the next checkpoint, where Yarny is replenished. If you go wrong you can always backtrack, as Yarny’s able to climb back and gather up his own string if required.
You can fire a line of yarn, hook onto preset points and swing across gaps, or from point to point like a tiny wooly Tarzan. Attach yarn to two such points close together and you can make a yarn trampoline, propelling yourself high into the air. You can also attach yarn to various objects, again at marked points, and then pull them from a distance.
You must then use your yarn to solve occasional physics-based puzzles, with levers, switches and the like all available to manipulate, all the while being sure not to tie yourself in knots and run out of yarn before the next checkpoint. It all sounds clever and complex, but with set points of interaction, most of the solutions are fairly apparent.
Yarny hates water. He drowns quickly, and water features in many of the puzzles and levels. One part where you have to work around the tide, as the waves sweep in and out of the beach is particularly noteworthy for both its inventiveness and beautiful realisation, but there are other moments, such as the puzzle featured in the screenshot above, where the rising water becomes incredibly frustrating, as Yarny can quickly drown even when it’s trickled down to just a knee-high deep puddle.
There are also plenty of wild animals you’ll encounter, some more friendly than others. The more aggressive creatures will chase you whereas others will help. For instance, you can use fish to help pull you safely across water or birds to help you soar, but crabs will come after you with a vengeance.
The world is based on real-life northern Scandinavia and the locations looked gorgeous. The graphics have a delightful quality, seemingly halfway between stylised and photo realistic, and there are beautiful weather effects on display, too. Unravel may have the tone and gameplay of an indie platformer, but the visuals are a step above.
With a relatively short running time, it’s clear its fourteen-person team lavished attention on the visual and audio elements of the game. The folksy soundtrack fits perfectly with the game’s ideas of lost memories and nostalgia, and each level is based around a lost memory that must be rediscovered to fill in the old, faded photographs of Yarny’s human creators.
It largely fits together beautifully. The graphics, the character and the idea of life unravelling make for an engaging proposition. However, the gameplay itself doesn’t quite fit the tone, as I often found my inputs to be frantic and stressed; for me, a greater emphasis on puzzles and less twitchy platforming action would have been a better fit for the tone of the game.
I also wish more had been made of Yarny’s limited range, with puzzles that truly tested the player’s ability to find the shortest route. Still, it’s an above-average platform game and well worth playing if you like the look and feel from the trailer.