Yarn-based characters have been a surprising trend in recent
years, thanks to playful platformers like Kirby's Epic Yarn and Yoshi's Woolly World.
While Nintendo's crocheted protagonists and the worlds they inhabit are
brimming with unbridled joy, Unravel strikes a bittersweet tone. With little
more than a silent protagonist, a grand orchestral score, and a few excerpts of
exposition, Unravel delivers style and soul, even if the puzzle mechanics are
Unravel stars Yarny, an anthropomorphic yarn doll who
travels back through the memories of an elderly woman. The string from Yarny's
body constantly unravels as he navigates the environments, and serves as the
primary mechanic for solving puzzles. The first few levels of Unravel are
filled with wonder. You swing from branches, build yarn bridges, and bounce
your way over obstacles. Much of the gameplay is reminiscent of
LittleBigPlanet, but Unravel benefits from tighter platforming controls, and
the realistic environments sell the fantasy of being a little character
exploring a big, dangerous world.
Unfortunately, the sense of discovery and awe is fleeting.
While each level takes you through a different chapter in the elderly woman's
life (with new settings, emotional themes, and obstacles), your solutions are
always the same. You continually roll around rocks, apples, and snowballs to
hop over high ledges, and slide objects up and down your constructed yarn
bridges – usually to also hop over high ledges. None of Unravel's puzzles are
particularly challenging; the few times I got stuck it was from overthinking
the problem at hand.
Without evolving gameplay mechanics, Coldwood Interactive
instills a sense of progression by introducing more difficult action sequences and
deadly objects. Unravel's checkpoints are generous, but since most dangers kill
you in a single hit, some frustrating sections kill you repeatedly before you get
the timing of Yarny's actions just right.
Despite the puzzle repetition, the changing environments and
story kept me engaged with the adventure. Each level fills in the elderly
woman's photo album with images from her past along with light exposition of
her (and Yarny's) emotional journey. The narrative has some ambiguity,
conveying themes of love, loss, and coming to peace with the past – both through
the expanding photo book and through the tone of the levels you visit.
With just a dozen levels, Unravel's brief six-hour runtime still
proves too long for the basic puzzle mechanics. However, the satisfying
platforming, thoughtful story, and adorable protagonist make it a worthwhile
journey. I grew tired of repeating the same puzzle solutions, but seeing
Unravel through to the end was still a treat.
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