In early 2016, Coldwood Interactive changed the world forever which the release of Unravel (PS4, Xbox One, and PC) and the introduction of the lovable yarn creature, Yarny. Well, kind of… with a very polished indie game look, publication by EA, and the inclusion of Yarny figures in physical copies of the game, it seemed that Coldwood was expecting Yarny fever to take the world by storm. Is Unravel an indie favorite or a cult classic in the making? Regardless of the popularity of Yarny, I decided to check out the game when it went on sale recently on Xbox Live.
Let me start off by saying the setting of Unravel is quite appealing. The environment that Yarny traverses is seen through a macro lens where puddles become lakes, and cars appear to be skyscrapers. One scene that shows this scaling particularly well has Yarny swatting away pesky mosquitos in a gloomy mire until a, relatively, gigantic moose stomps by and the mosquitos buzz away to swarm the meatier host. Additionally, a multitude of stages showcase the sprawling Scandinavian ecosystems and weather that draw as inspiration for the game. At one moment Yarny will be strolling through sun rays in a wooded glen and the next shivering in the pouring rain while crossing the underside of a bridge.
However, there is a duality to this nature. For every dainty butterfly floating across the screen, there is a precariously placed boulder perched to pancake Yarny. Now you may be wondering how a little, fragile yarn figure navigates this treacherous landscape? The answer: carefully.
Yarny, by circumstance of his being, only has a set distance he can travel before it (Yarny doesn’t appear to have any sort of gender) needs to hit a checkpoint, signified by a bundle of yarn. Wherever Yarny travels a trail of string follows, connecting every location Yarny has been. If Yarny ever comes to the end of it’s line, it’ll have to turn around and retrace its path to find a more simple way through the level. It’s nigh heartbreaking to watch Yarny pull at its own tail desperately hoping for a few more inches when it is nearly out of string. Even more so when Yarny doesn’t have enough rope left to hit the ground and is left dangling mid air like some helpless marionette. Yarny’s short leash does add challenge to game especially when looking for collectible buttons that are craftily hidden throughout each level.
Otherwise, to just normally complete a level Yarny will have to use its particular set of string themed skills to avoid danger and survive. Yarny can use its thread to lasso anchor points and swing Tarzan style over gaps in the terrain. It can also tie knots in its yarn at select spots to build bridges over hazards and trampolines to get to higher ground. Puzzles occasionally stand out as unique and interesting but most of the time fall flat and just resort to platforming and avoiding instant-death traps.
I was initially fooled by Unravel’s cutesy design in the first few levels, but gradually I began to be crushed, drowned, and devoured by crows, crabs, and cockroaches more often than I had expected. But with perseverance, Yarny was able to overcome any challenge or puzzle in its way to collect its prize at the end of each level.
These prizes and collectibles are also what stitches the plot together. The story seems to be up to interpretation, but from what I gathered Yarny is picking up pieces to a scrapbook at locations important to a family. Yarny and the scrapbook appear to be the creation of a matriarch and Yarny cares enough to keep the memories available for future generations of the family. Pretty cute and heartwarming, but not as well executed as similarly toy themed properties like Toy Story. There are also very obvious environmental themes present in the landfill level but it never evolves to anything significant or poignant.
If Unravel had a few more tricks weaved into its design, I could see this becoming more of a staple in a collector’s library. As is though, Unravel makes for a good, quick, sightseeing getaway. Just as long as the crows don’t get you first.