Unravel won the hearts of many when it was announced at the EA press conference during the 2015 E3. Many gamers instantly sympathized with the creator from Coldwood games, Martin Sahlin. Pouring his heart out through his trembling voice, the crowd cheered him on and clapped uproariously. Especially when his shaking hands presented his homemade version of Unravel's protagonist, Yarny. During his speech Sahlin expressed how it was his responsibility as a game developer to do more than just entertain. He wanted his team's passion project to take on something more personal and heartfelt. Throughout Unravel you can feel this personal connection towards Yarny and the journey itself forming through Yarny's reactions to events, subtle and not-so-subtle tonal shifts, and the impressive musical score.
Yarny is the most expressive silent protagonist I have ever seen in a game. He emotes and becomes very human from the outset of the adventure. We watch as Yarny reacts in simple, yet endearing, ways such as trying to catch butterflies, shivering in the rain, shaking off a bump to the head when he falls down, and pumping his fist and clapping when certain puzzles are solved. These are fantastic little tidbits that add to the intricate web of Yarny's personality. However, the real set pieces that show who he is, is when a level is completed and he gets a new yarn badge to put on the memory book. The way Yarny treasures these little badges and puts himself in serious danger to get them is beautiful. Without saying a word you are able to tell the great sentimental value the badges hold. This builds a distinct connection the player is able to make with this oddly human Yarn doll.
The picturesque environments of Unravel are gorgeous to behold. Sahlin stressed that when he thought of Unravel he was on a camping trip in the countryside of Sweden. A large portion of Unravel can be seen from that perspective. When Yarny is in a lighthearted mood in and near his home at the beginning of the game it is reflected in the presentation of the area. The music is light and whimsical and the sun is at its peak giving off a golden glow. The colors are vibrant and the world is inviting you out for an adventure. On some level you can feel Sahlin putting you in the camping trip. You see memories of children playing and of a family enjoying their time together. Then the tone switches and the trip is left behind. The further Yarny explores away from his home the darker and more ominous the world becomes and this is shown in Yarny's sense of fearful apprehension towards new areas. Throughout the levels the music loses its whimsy and begins to play a woeful tale of heartache that hits a heart wrenching crescendo. The memories turn from nostalgic flashbacks of summer days to gripping realities of loss and pain. This is even reflected in Yarny's home, which acts as the hub world, where the light fades bit by bit after each level until it is just Yarny running in the darkness.
Unravel hits a lot of highpoints with the presentation and subtle storytelling, yet when it comes to game play there is a good bit left to be desired. In the first level we are introduced to the basic mechanics. Yarny can jump, swing, climb, push and pull objects, lasso certain objects to climb or pull, and build bridges. What the game does with these mechanics throughout the rest of the ten or so levels comes off as uninspired, because a lot of the puzzles begin feeling very similar very quickly. You are going to build a lot of bridges, push a lot of blocks, and roll a lot of round objects. Despite the puzzles feeling like an afterthought, the platforming feels very tight; you can consistently land high momentum jumps and swing from point to point reliably. Make no mistake though, the game play in Unravel has definitely resigned to the back seat.
Listening to Sahlin speak about the game it would seem that this was the plan all along and I have to agree that it was the best course of action for the little studio. While Unravel may not give you the intense Mario-like platforming sections or the head scratching, mind bending puzzles of The Witness, it draws its strength and notability by delivering a beautiful narrative through completely unspoken means. While my Swedish isn't fantastic, the stitched pillow at the beginning of the game contains a great descriptor of Yarny and Unravel as a whole " Lycka blommar ur sma enkla ting" or "Happiness Blooms From Small Simple Things".
On a numerical scale I give Unravel an 8/10
+The environments are gorgeous
+The narrative is truly beautiful
+The platforming and yarn mechanics are fun to use
-The puzzles grow stale quickly
Unravel is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC for $19.99 USD