Unravel Review (Xbox One)
Lycka blommar ur sma enkla ting.
One of the first things you see in Unravel is a pillow on a chair with those words, Swedish for "happiness blooms from small simple things." If I could get away with it that's all I would need to describe the game. Unravel centers around simplicity, Occam's Razor -- "the most logical solution is usually the correct one" -- and most importantly love. Love pours out of every part of this game, from the backstory of a woman remembering past times with loved ones to Yarny himself, the yarn he's made from representing "the bonds between people, the red thread that ties everyone and everything together. It stands for love, and Yarny is the manifestation of all of those things."
From that love comes a touching story packed into a beautiful setting with a delightful main character in Yarny. The care and devotion of the team at Coldwood to the craft of game development is more than evident at every turn. This game is not without its frustrations, particularly in puzzles toward the end of the game, but the brief fleeting moments of anxiety are easily countered by the overall warmth that Unravel exudes. This is a game I'll play when I'm having a bad day and want to turn it around.
The world of Unravel pops with color, the surrounding environments just as alive and active as Yarny and the animals in the foreground. From the simple yard covered in thistles to the dock by the sea there's not a single world in the game that won't please the eye. Even harsh environments with heavy weather or other factors I don't want to spoil glow with color, reinforcing the idea that there's beauty even in the darkest of places.
These areas are home to some truly unique platforming puzzles, utilizing the hero's yarn-based composition to interact in some pretty neat ways. Red pieces of yarn tied to parts of the world can be interacted with, and there's plenty of ways to do so. Yarny can push and pull objects by lassoing them, swing across tree branches and hooks with ease, and even create platforms for himself by tying yarn to two marked parts. Yarn use is limited however, and going too far without finding a spool of yarn to restore Yarny will cause him to halt progress and become a skinny, frail version of himself. When that happens I have to backtrack and find the spool that allows me to keep going, a novel way to add an extra layer of challenge to the experience.
Not a single word is spoken in Unravel, the only human voices heard coming from the chorus that accents the incredible soundtrack. Every bit of story in Unravel is told through actions or written words, the emotional state of the story beat defined by the soundtrack behind it. Once again Unravel excels in its simplicity, creating truly wonderful emotional moments from Yarny picking up a small trinket made of yarn and placing it on a photo album. The arcing story is then told through photos and words in that album, detailing a woman who loved her family and was loved in return, but how things out of her control affected her and her loved ones. This creates a solid cycle: complete a stage, watch Yarny place the trinket, read the part of the story just unlocked, and repeat.
The "overworld" of Unravel is the elderly woman's house, her couch being the place where the pillow from above resides. It's a simple home, a few rooms surrounded by pictures of loved one and ordinary furniture. The pictures serve as portals to the stages, but Yarny simply admires them as the camera zooms in instead of doing his best Super Mario 64 impression and jumping into them. A piano lives in one room unlocked later on, and Yarny can jump on the keys like Tom Hanks in Big for a bit of fun before moving on to the next stage. That didn't need to be included, but I loved the momentary break in the gameplay cycle just to see if I could make Yarny jump to the sound of "Chopsticks" (I couldn't) and the simple admiration of the photos gives them even more emotional impact.
As happy and loving as Unravel is, the experience is not without teeth. Some of the puzzles require some out of the box thinking -- especially the ones that give Yarny access to the hidden collectible yarn flowers scattered around the game -- while others are simply frustrating. Some puzzles require a precision in control that Unravel simply does not offer, creating moments where I think I press the button at the right time but Yarny still falls to a watery death. There's one challenge late in the game involving wind that angered me to the point of almost turning off my Xbox One and walking away; it being the only puzzle in the game where the otherwise well laid out control scheme worked against me. Sometimes the game's physics work against me, like the one time I loosened an oil drum hanging on a shelf that I needed to climb on, only for it to roll off of the shelf and squish me. I shouldn't have to start over because I successfully finished the puzzle, that's not cool. The game sometimes seemed like it was out to get me, but luckily those brief moments of frustration didn't take away from the overall Unravel experience.
In an industry that can sometimes feel cold and sterile, Unravel is a welcome injection of warmth and love. The insanely cute Yarny, the emotional story, and the vibrant worlds all radiate a serenity that can really change a person's outlook on life itself. The minds at Coldwood clearly loved creating this adventure and it shows, making me love playing it even when I was at my wit's end due to frustration. To me Unravel is the video game equivalent of a sweater fresh out of the dryer: it's warm and comfy and wonderful despite being itchy once in a while, and everyone should put this sweater on and see if it fits.
This review was completed using a download code of Unravel provided by the publisher for Xbox One.