This adorable platformer is as cute as it is frustrating
Apparently writing the word ‘cute’ one thousand times doesn’t count as a review, which is a shame, given just how adorable the protagonist of Unravel is.
The fibrous shell, the lack of facial features, the silent demeanour, Yarny is lovelier than a cup of tea after a cold commute.
Capturing our hearts way back in June last year, when Yarny and his creator Martin Sahlin took to the E3 stage during the EA conference, it caused more exhales of ‘aww’ than a puppy convention. Everything about the presentation was sincere, the game a welcome change from the normal sports and hyper-violent titles that usually saturate the market.
However, looks aren’t all that is needed to make a game playable; the content behind it needing to be equally as impressive. At times, Unravel is exceptional, but not everything is perfect once you dig underneath its knitted facade.
ANYONE FOR A GAME OF FRUSTRATION?
It probably seems surprising that a platformer such as this could grind your gears, but Unravel has the ability to do exactly that, especially when you’re first getting to grips with it. Using Yarny’s, erm, yarn to whatever effect is needed involves a lot of trial and error, and the puzzles can be a little difficult to wrap your head around. They’re a welcome challenge at times and evasive at others, since the game doesn’t always make it clear what it wants you to do next.
There’s also no free roaming camera, which in a game where you can swing from one place to the next, seems silly. You’ll often be forced to traipse around in search of the best path through a level or puzzle. This is especially annoying when your yarn starts to run out and you have to retrace your steps to get it back before you unravel too much.
The length and reach of Yarny’s arms also feels inconsistent. Some jumps you will be able to make and some will send you tumbling onto your soft, huggable face. So, yeah, turns out that little red creature can be quite the hellraiser.
A SIGHT TO BEHOLD
Visually, Unravel is a gorgeous game. From the realism of a speeding car driving over Yarny, to the attacks of the various animals you meet, Coldwood Interactive’s largest title to date is thing of beauty. The levels themselves are varied in style with almost each one bringing a new terrain to scour, such as the snowy landscape of ‘Winter sun’, or structures to climb, like the great machines of level ‘How much is enough’.
Unlike the recent Firewatch, there’s no stuttering or poor optimisation, and Unravel flows easily from one place to the next. The game also has great attention to detail, the house that acts as your hub world being particularly impressive, with overflowing draws and weathered doors making it feel lived in. As for what you hear, a voiceless musical score drifts throughout, its beauty equal to that of the visuals. This game really is a feast for your senses.
It’s a testament to the creators that a body of yarn can produce any amount of feelings within you. Seeing the gender-fluid Yarny scared particularly tugs at your heartstrings. Animations, such as crossed arms when cold, convey an awful lot about how the red figure of material is feeling at any given time. Mostly this is done through its eyes, the sad droops and wide expressions telling you all you need to know.
However, Unravel’s plot fails to have the same effect. A tale of environmental pollution and family love that’s eteched across scrapbook cuttings and holographic memories, it’s uniquely illustrated but doesn’t quite capture your emotions like Yarny does.
LONGER THAN A PIECE OF YARN
This is particularly troblesome as, despite its 6-10 hour playtime, Unravel still feels too long. Towards its last few levels, the repetitive nature of the game starts to slowly eat away the fun at the fun you have playing it. There’s a feeling of plodding on, much like when you’ve watched a Quentin Tarantino film that could have ended an hour ago, but didn’t and now you’re stuck watching it to find out how everything wraps ups.
In the case of Unravel, there’s a lot less bloodshed about, but the experience still isn’t particularly exhilarting. This is largely thanks to its puzzles, which are very similar throughout the game. Once you’ve grasped its initial mechanics, you’re all set for the entire thing.
So Unravel isn’t a great game, but it does have real heart and soul. This sense of personality counts for a lot in our books, especially since it’s delivered in the adorable guise of Yarny.
With wonderful graphics, as well as an excellent soundtrack, Unravel’s cute exterior belies some enraging flaws. Its discouraging lack of direction and inconsistent mechanics are disappointing enough to tarnish your experience with the game. In fact, you’re best off playing it in installments to take the edge off any such frustration.
While you’ll struggle to find another platformer like Unravel this year, it’s by no means essential.
A flawed but heart-swelling game, Unravel is exiting at times and painful at others
Looks and sounds gorgeous
Challenging and rewarding moments
Yarny is fantastically animated
A chore towards the end
Some flawed mechanics
Vague instructions are frustrating
Original article first appeared on Stuff.tv on 10/02/2016