Love. It can break us, mold us, and transform us. It’s the one factor that we all share. But what happens when love moves away from us? Is it gone forever? Or do the memories of those we hold so dear stay with us, no matter how far away we are?
Unravel, at first glance, appears to be a simple puzzle-platformer, but once you sit down to play it, you’ll discover a captivating, emotional story bought to you by a ball of red yarn.
The story begins with an older woman who is getting ready for bed as Yarny springs to life. Once outside the small home, you navigate through a garden and away from the house, in hopes of bringing together the abandoned memories of the family that once occupied the house. However, each step Yarny takes causes him to unravel, as a reminder of the thread that connects them all.
As Yarny, you’re able to travel throughout the home where you’ll encounter memories of a family forgotten. Much like how we encounter deeply personal memories, each photo you find in the game will take you to the location where each photo was taken. When you complete a level the memories you’ve collected of the family are placed in an album, which starts to come alive, creating a much larger story.
From the very beginning we are welcomed to an array of graphic beauty and visuals that have been carefully created to enrapture us. The graphics are stunning, gentle; where everything feels like a painting. Inspired by director Martin Sahlin’s photography and his environment in Sweden, everything is seen at Yarny’s level. The trees are massive, requiring you to lasso your yarn in order to climb them.
As you make your way through each level, Yarny is filled with curiosity as he takes in each environment. His expressions are child-like. For example, puddles are fun for him to watch, and a butterfly in the corner will take hold of his attention. He reacts to the world around in the most human ways. He shivers when cold, and puts his head down while holding onto himself for warmth when it snows. He bounces in the warmth and takes in the sun. He loves the snow, rolling around in it, much similar to children forming snowballs.
When you pause the game for a moment, he looks at you, beckoning with his eyes for you to return. This is where Unravel succeeds, the human aspect the game taps into. Its theme is universal, yet it manages to never overstep its boundaries by purposely pulling at your heart strings, forcing you to feel an emotion. Unravel, at its core is authentic, original and imaginative.
Like life, there is a sense of loneliness that you’ll battle through in the game. People who are no longer in your life are no more than just memories you’ve collected over the years. This and the many emotions coupled in the game is what makes it different for everyone. We all have our own story and react different to situations. Unravel is not all tears and sadness, there are fun moments that help mask the realities of life, all joined with a free-spirit gameplay, that whisks you away to breathtaking landscapes which create wondrous atmosphere.
Then there’s the puzzler aspect (remember you have memories to gather), where you’ll run into multiple obstacles that’ll require you to figure out how to climb over and under places using your environment. Fallen apples become your helpers, pools of water are your doom. There are even animals to run away from. Sounds simple, right? It is until you add in the fact Yarny is only given a certain amount of yarn to spool from, so be prepared for many of your steps to be retraced.
At times I found myself upsetting Yarny, his anxious and haggard looks letting me know I’ve reached the end of the yarn. Fortunately, the game allows you to easily restart to the previous save point. This is a useful tool when you’ve just made a situation completely unsolvable. There will be spool of extra yarn scattered throughout the level that not only helping you to get further into your journey but also act as convenient save points.
Gameplay relies heavily on strategy, therefore difficultly is based on an individual’s personal set of skills. Fear not, as the game provides a slew of various techniques so you’re never stuck doing the same thing. I found the controls frustration and overwhelming at first, but the more I played, the quicker I mastered them, erasing the disappointment in Yarny’s eyes.
It wasn’t long until I started to feel like Charlotte’s Web, as I appreciated the many uses of yarn. The puzzles range from simple to aggravating but never daunting or impossible. The key is to pay attention to everything, sometimes the simplest tactic was staring at you the entire time. Completing each obstacle will award you with a sense of satisfaction. A massive compliment the game gives the player is that it doesn’t repeat the same puzzle. Each obstacle is filled with fresh and new ideas, this coupled with an active environment heightens the experience; not everything is based on yarn.
Unravel is a wonderful gift to those who need an escape and for those who just love games. It’s delightful, charming, and heartfelt. Each moment was like stepping into a photograph made with magic. There aren’t many games where you feel the love and appreciation the developers have for their project. This game oozes joy from every corner, as if everyone involved is personally thanking you for the experience. My heart warmed with every step I took as as I realized everyone needs a Yarny in their life.
This review of Unravel is based on a digital copy for the PlayStation 4 which was provided by Electronic Arts.