Unravel, made by Coldwood Interactive, is a 2016 puzzle platform game available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It’s a distinctive game, one that really stands out for it’s stunning visuals and a concept like nothing else. It’s evident Coldwood Interactive put an awful lot of work into this atmospheric game. It was incredibly well received, and there’s even a sequel, Unravel Two, which was released in 2018 and introduced co-op play to the series.
In Unravel, you play as Yarny, a little human-like figure made of bright red yarn. You make your way through beautiful landscapes, where everything seems so large and magnificent compared to your small size. The opening is nice and short, but really grabs your interest from the get-go. The level selection is within the house of an elderly women, and each photograph she has up is a different level, which is a different landscape that comes with its own challenges and puzzles. As you move, you trail your yarn behind you, (you unravel), so you have to be a little careful where you choose to tread as you might run out before you can reach the next lot of yarn.
This adds a nice challenge to the gameplay without diverting the players attention too much, and it’s rarely irritating. You sometimes catch yourself just shy of the next piece of yarn, but you can quickly trace your steps to see where you went wrong, so the progression still feels fast enough. With your yarn, you can make bridges, lasso, swing from it, and even slingshot yourself – it’s ridiculously fun!
Unfortunately, they do throw all of these mechanics at you one after the other, which is quite a lot to take in and think about when you’re trying to remember them all and get to grips with the handling of the game. It wouldn’t have needed a massive change, but perhaps spreading these mechanics out just ever so slightly more would help the player to not feel overwhelmed. As you explore each level, you uncover memories of the family, which form in the background of the environment.
It would have been nice if these memories were more intertwined with the gameplay, but I do like the sense of isolation that comes with being less involved. Then, at the end of the level you find a little badge made of the same yarn that you place on a journal that becomes filled with photographs and little pieces of poetry entries. There’s a real home-made feel to this detail and it really makes you feel cosy and appreciative.
The game is set in Sweden, with the landscapes having been inspired by Umeå. The visuals of the environment are highly impressive, and Coldwood Interactive did a fantastic job of not making you forget just how impressive they were. The landscapes cover everything, from deep forests to the coastline, to heavy snow and wind. There is a moment towards the middle of the game where there is a sudden change from this open countryside to a dark and damp shed, where Yarny works their way through old buildings. Both are beautifully crafted, but the stark difference between the two is what keeps your attention. There’s always something to look at and be distracted by, even if it’s just the gentle sway of a twig in the breeze.
Unravel is wonderfully immersive and atmospheric. Throughout the game, the soundtrack is incredibly immersive and emotive. It feels heroic and large and great, all for a little Yarn-man so small. In the background of the levels, there is often wildlife and animals grazing on grass, or flying in flocks. They were such a nice detail and added real depth to the world. Also, Yarny has an insane amount of character.
The way they whoop and cheer after being dragged along the sea by a speedboat, the way they jump and stumble in fear, and the beautiful moments of compassion. In a passing friendship, and despite being chased by birds in a previous level, Yarny frees a bird from some barbed wire, and the bird continues to fly you to the end badge. Yarny is always characterised in a way that makes them look very immersed in the world themselves, which is a great touch. They have this wonderful curiosity about them.
Within the level, there are 5 hidden secrets and extras that you can find. This offers a little extra something for those looking for more of a challenge, and also something to look for on a replay, perhaps. Personally, I found the puzzles the perfect level of difficulty and I didn’t particularly want to add anything else on top of that, but I think having the option there without it being required to improve the experience is a tough thing to balance and Unravel did a great job of it. I did find that the puzzles got easier as the game progressed, as I was finally getting to grips with the mechanics and style of gameplay. I’m not sure that that’s the way a game should go, but I found it pretty rewarding either way!
Towards the end of the game, you hit the snow levels, the season of winter. One of these stood out in particular to me: Winter Sun. It was a joy to play. The logs you ride down hills, the falling podiums of ice you must jump from and onto, and the giant snowballs you roll from just pinecones. I usually can’t stand snow in games, it’s slowing and blinding, but this level was fast-paced and really made you feel as though Yarny was part of something bigger, something they’ll never be sure of.
Then, in the chapter before the last, Yarny is surrounded by harsh winds and heavy snowfall. You must traverse through this winter weather, grabbing onto hooks so you aren’t blown away by the winds. Yarny falls in the deep snow and covers their eyes from the weather. After feeling so free and accomplished, it’s a difficult level to watch, let alone play. At the end, Yarny falls into the deep snow, and in one desperate attempt to grasp one half of a yarn-heart, they unravel away to nothing. It’s a deeply saddening moment, leaving you with nothing but the wind whistling and soaring as you stare in shock
That moment hangs in the air for a second, before a hand comes on screen and reaches for what’s left of Yarny. Hope. Then the final chapter plays, Yarny wakes whole again, in the bright sun of the forest, they clamber out of the family’s backpack. This final level is wonderful. It flows brilliantly. You swing from these little particles of light, the memories you have collected, and make your way back to the house where you select levels. It makes for a great cyclic ending as Yarny places the final badge together to complete the journal. Being able to read through the journal, go over the photographs, and see everywhere you’ve been and everything you’ve done makes for a satisfying and beautifully sad ending.
With pitch perfect puzzle mechanics, some attractive presentation and a beating heart in its chest – Unravel is one of those games where you wish you could erase it from your mind just to be able to play it for the first time all over again.