Unravel is undoubtedly a labour of love. The puzzle platformer opens with a thank you message from the development team at ColdWood Interactive. You can tell that everyone involved at the studio wants people to enjoy their game and, hopefully, for it to have some emotional impact.
Yarny, your playable character, can easily be compared to Sackboy of LittleBigPlanet fame, but the comparison is actually better than you might think. While, yes, they are both loosely from the same materials gene pool, the actual platforming mechanics (jumping, swinging, pushing, pulling, etc) feel pretty close to one another. This is a physics-based platformer with plenty of levers to pull, objects to push, seesaws to tip, so if you're not into that, you might want to stay clear.
For people like me, who actually enjoy LBP's platforming and neat environment manipulation, Unravel goes a step further. While Sackboy is made of cloth, Yarny is formed from (yes) yarn, with a single thread being wrapped around to make his impish body. This thread unravels (of course) as you move, and you'll actually be stopped from progressing at points unless you can tie some more on.
This single thread of yarn is also used to help solve Yarny's problems inside the game world. By tying the yarn to specific locations you can create ramps or jump platforms, enabling Yarny to move objects into previously out of reach areas or leap up to grab a ledge. It's a neat system, and throughout the adventure there are numerous clever puzzles that require a bit of brainpower and experimentation. What yarn tethers need to be joined together here? How can I move that lever and not get electrocuted? Is that acid there purely to piss me off?
When the puzzles are at their most intellectually challenging Unravel is excellent, showing the development team to be worthy of the praise received in the months leading up to the game's launch. Sadly, a lot of the time you'll be moving objects around and making bridges over and over again, to the point that you can more or less predict what lies ahead by what whether or not a movable object is lying around. Unravel never became tiresome, but it certainly could have done with a few more ingenious ideas.
Frustration is part and parcel of a platformer of this ilk, with instant death at the hands of deep water, toxic waste, large falling objects, and other miniature disasters causing a few irritable moments. Upon death you are restarted at the last checkpoint, which is never far back, but some fiddly rope swinging might initially irk you. You will get the knack of it and encounter less issues the further you get, and generally any difficulty comes from finding solutions rather than platforming skills.
An initially quaint story soon ramps up into something darker, and is smartly told through in-game visions and a gradually filled photo album. Yarny, too, changes (or at leasts seems to) over the course of his journey, becoming more downbeat after a lovely, chipper opening. Despite the terrible things happening in the world, it's hard not to feel like anything but an observer, Yarny himself merely walking through it all.
Yarny and his world has been so wonderfully created, again with striking similarities to LBP, albeit if Media Molecule's games were designed to resemble real life rather than elaborate sets made from any old objects lying around. Unravel is a gorgeous game, backed by a quaint yet tonally perfect soundtrack. You'll want to love it even before you've made it beyond the level hub and it's not hard to find scenes you'll want to share with others.
Unravel is thoroughly enjoyable, lovely game, but it falls short of being something to be truly cherished. It's smart but not often enough, gorgeous but emotionally distant, and at times feels a tad unfair with how it dishes out frustration. There's a lot of love here, but also a fair chunk that is simply just OK.
Version Tested: Xbox One
Code supplied by Coldwood Interactive