Reviewer: Michael Mendis
Developer: Coldwood Interactive
Publisher: Electronic Arts
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PS4, PC
Originally formed in 2003, Coldwood Interactive is a developer that has remained largely in obscurity over the years. That all changed, however, when their latest game, Unravel, was announced at Electronic Arts’ E3 2015 stage, impressing audiences with its beautiful world and charming protagonist. Fast forward to 2016, and Unravel is finished and available to the public. So how does Coldwood do with their highest-profile game to date?
Unravel’s storytelling is both one of the game’s biggest strengths and its biggest weakness. The game begins with an old lady in a cottage, looking over old photographs and quietly reminiscing about times past. As she picks up a basket full of yarn balls and starts to walk upstairs, a red ball of yarn falls out and rolls down to the room below. From that ball of yarn comes Yarny, a small anthropomorphic yarn creature that you control throughout the game. Yarny jumps into the photos sitting around the house, reliving moments from the old lady’s past. Unfortunately, some memories you visit don’t seem to have much connection to one another, and an overarching narrative, which could help tie everything together, fails to form. The overall story, while inoffensive, simply doesn’t make much sense, and not much is made clear throughout the course of the game.
Where Unravel succeeds in its storytelling is its sense of atmosphere. Beautiful ambient music plays as Yarny explores the world around him, his cottony eyes filled with wonder and curiosity. The gorgeous graphics and detailed environments make it easy to get wrapped up in the scene, and watching Yarny swing from tree branches and chase after butterflies is nothing short of adorable. As you travel from memory to memory, different events bring to mind themes such as enjoying the natural world and spending time with loved ones; it’s unfortunate that the story as a whole fails to bring these themes together in any meaningful way. Ultimately the tale being told is fascinating in the moment, but feels shallow when you get to the end.
Unravel’s gameplay is simple and easy to pick up; Yarny can push and pull objects, he can throw his string like a lasso to grab onto things, and he can tie his string to certain points, such as nails and tree branches. The game teaches you everything you need to know about Yarny’s abilities in the first level, which makes it easy for anyone to learn the mechanics and dive right into the gameplay. Each level contains a series of physics-based puzzles made through some very creative use of the environment, as well as a few moments that test your platforming skill (such as swinging across a chasm or escaping a hungry groundhog). All of these sequences are well-designed, but none of them are particularly difficult; this is easy to forgive, though, thanks to the tight controls and the imagination poured into each segment of the game.
The biggest challenge in the game is collecting the five secret yarn objects located in each level. The secrets are often hidden in clever and/or hard-to-reach places, and some of them (particularly later in the game) require very precise platforming to reach (as of this review I have collected about two-thirds of them all). Finding these secrets is optional, and they don’t add anything new to the story, but they are a nice touch nonetheless and add incentive to go back and replay levels.
All things considered, Unravel is a delightful little game that feels great to play and is fun for the whole family. The narrative leaves a bit to be desired, but the responsive controls and imaginative world make the trip well worth it. Unravel’s successes definitely outweigh its failures.
Overall Score: B-