Unravel is a beautiful game that has very little to say. Unravel feels like a cornucopia of ideas, stitched together randomly to create a collage which makes little sense, with a story slapped on top that holds little resonance or drive for the player to hold on too.
You play as Yarny, a cute little ball of yarn who has apparently become fed up with life in the knitting pile and goes out on an adventure. This little ball of yarn that can traverse over a number of different environments, these seem largely unconnected in any way and offer little in the way of depth to the adventure. In fact, they seem like a random set of scenes the developer thought would look good in screen shots and threw them in. You’ll start in a garden after leaving the house and will eventually go to a beach and even a toxic waste site. There is no cohesion in the scenes and the little droplets of story you are fed offer nothing resembling an explanation to bring things together.
The puzzle elements of the 2D platformer arise from the amount of yarn you are covered in. As you traverse through each level you leave behind you a trail of yarn that is extremely limited. The goal is to reach the next checkpoint with some yarn intact. Luckily some helpful soul has left numerous clumps of your red yarn around to enable you to progress deeper into the game. Unfortunately, Yarny uses his wool for everything. He builds bridges and ties knots everywhere to allow objects to move through levels. He uses his yarn to swing like Tarzan and lower himself down from tall ledges. With the limited amount of yarn available to you, this means as soon as you had figured out a puzzle, you were going back over yourself and untying all of the knots previously tied to ensure you could make it to the end of the checkpoint. There is nothing more frustrating than being inches away from a new ball of yarn and having little Yarny tug helplessly on the end of the line because you messed up somewhere. This meant one thing – you were tracking back through the level to untie something or puzzle better to ensure you could make it.
You are presented with the smallest of story beats as you progress through Unravel, although everything is left up to your own interpretation in the end. While you progress through the levels silhouetted figures appear in the background in a still frame and perhaps a little additional sound such as a child’s laughter. This occurs many times in each level and I believe this was meant to tell the story of life and death; a story of growing old and family moving on and dealing with ever more serious and adult issues – the loss of innocence.
The levels in Unravel are truly beautiful and some of the best I’ve seen in any video game. Some left me questioning whether they were designed by an artist or simply a photo used as a background. The stunning backdrops that you wander through often left me relaxed and at peace with the game. The backgrounds went a long way in helping me through the frustration I felt during the long periods of poor puzzle design and boredom as I waited for something to happen.
Unravel is desperate to tell you a story but struggles to give you even the most basic beats to make it cohesive in any way. It’s an unfortunate case of striving to be something you can’t and in this case, misses the mark by a rather large margin. I felt no connection to Yarny like I envisioned I should. He was small and cute and yet I spent a lot of time screaming at him from my sofa because he couldn’t magic up an extra inch of yarn from his body to allow me to progress. The platforming is mediocre at best and the puzzles are arbitrarily hard in the most unfair way. More disappointing than anything is the fact that most people will not plod through the tedium to see the beautifully created locations that Yarny travels to during his adventure.
Hopping over the grabby little crabs on the beach always brought a smile
Yarny has 5 actions he can perform. Repeat, endlessly.
Frustrating puzzle design
Nothing that could be called a story