Unravel (PlayStation 4) Review

By Nikola Suprak 02.06.2016

Review for Unravel on PlayStation 4

The great thing about the best indie titles is how much of a passion project the games can be, and how the developer's love of the subject matter frequently shines through. Developer Coldwood Interactive clearly cares a great deal for its title, Unravel. There is something undeniably intimate about the story, the way it looks at family dynamics, and even the way the studio gives you a little message before starting it up properly. This was something the team loved, and it shines through in the design and presentation. Unfortunately, Unravel just becomes the latest example to showcase that heart alone is not the only thing needed to make a great end product (as also seen in the recent PC review).

A misplaced ball of yarn really doesn't sound like the impetus for a great adventure, unless that adventure is titled "How am I going to finish my quilt now?" and designed for the senior citizen crowd. That is exactly how Unravel starts out, though, and there is a surprisingly poignant tale told for something centred on a runaway bundle of string. The ball soon becomes sentient (as these things frequently do) and begins exploring the house of the old woman who dropped him. Yarny begins exploring the house and finds a series of pictures that he can enter to explore numerous environments and connect to particularly important memories tied to them. These memories slowly unravel the old woman's history, back to the times before she was absentmindedly losing bundles of her yarn.

Screenshot for Unravel on PlayStation 4

The majority of the story here is told without any real words. Each chapter has a brief sentence or two summarising some key thought or idea, but the majority is shown through pictures and fuzzy snippets scattered throughout the levels. There is something decidedly melancholy about looking through a stranger's life, and Unravel shows the ups and downs of this woman and her family, detailing some sweet, innocent days and juxtaposing it with loss and sorrow. It is a remarkably evocative title, and it does a great job making you feel emotions even though they are showing off a fictional character's recollections. The story is sweet and sad, and it tells a more heartfelt tale than most games do despite having an actual script less than a hundredth of the size. The story is fairly simplistic and predictable, but the focus here is more on evoking certain feelings than on the actual plot of the events themselves.

Part of the reason the story is so effective is because of how lovingly the game is put together. Yarny is an absolutely adorable hero with a remarkably suggestive face. When he's happy, he is dangerous levels of cute, and when he's scared, it is hard not to try and reach through the screen and comfort him. The visuals on the whole are stunning, and it is amazing that a smaller studio was able to reach this level of polish. Some levels can feel a bit too similar as most of the proceedings take place in leafy, vibrant forests, but there is enough variation that everything doesn't blend together. The soothing background noises, well timed sound effects, and excellent visuals make this feel like a cohesive package where everything feeds back into the central themes and messages. A lot of work went into rounding this out so well, and Unravel feels like the developers genuinely loved making it.

Screenshot for Unravel on PlayStation 4

It is a bit unfortunate then that when it is time to get into the gameplay, the same polish isn't quite there. The core concept is fairly clever, and Yarny must use his supply of yarn to make his way through all the dangerous forest environments. There are various hooks that he can attach to, and numerous ways for this to be worked into platforming or puzzles. Two nearby hooks can be attached to create a small bridge that items can be carried over or Yarny can jump up onto. Other hooks can be used to swing back and forth from, allowing Yarny to leap across large gaps he may be unable to otherwise. The catch here is that Yarny is often working with a limited supply of…himself…and it isn't replenished until he hits one of the numerous checkpoints scattered throughout a stage. The goal becomes to make it to the end, utilising the yarn in the most efficient way possible, while avoiding traps and pitfalls along the way.

This core sounds interesting enough, if a bit predictable, but the issue is the developer really fails to come up with many ways to make this interesting or clever. A good puzzle platformer gives the player some basic tools to tackle the actual puzzles and then ramping up the difficulty and ideas over time. Unravel never really gets around to that second portion, and even at the very end, most of the conundrums revolve around the same basic ideas that have been used since the very opening scenes. Every now and then, the game will do something clever, like utilising the environment to avoid incoming birds or strong gusts of wind, but, for the most part, the levels alternate between using swings or bridges to get past nearly everything. There simply isn't enough variety here in the way the yarn is utilised, and the team runs out of ways to come up with actual challenges almost immediately.

Screenshot for Unravel on PlayStation 4

Since Unravel doesn't really come up with any impressive challenges or twists on the gameplay, it also wraps up too briefly. There isn't much to do outside of solving the same couple of brainteasers over and over. There are some very basic platform challenges, but again these typically require the same one or two tricks shown off right away in the early stages. Climb up objects, use the yarn to manoeuvre around others, and repeat until the end is reached. Each level does have five collectibles to find for the avid trophy hunters out there, but there is no real reward attached to finding these objects. Collecting them all does help with the challenge somewhat, as these are often tucked away or hidden in such a way that is far cleverer than the standard tasks offered. There is no real reason to get them, however, and most will probably just speed through and ignore them entirely. Overall, while the core mechanics aren't necessarily bad, they are rather rudimentary and outside of a handful of cleverly hidden collectibles or well-designed segments, Unravel really doesn't have anything interesting to offer in terms of the actual game portion of the experience.

Screenshot for Unravel on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

It is hard not to love Unravel, but it is also hard to like it at times. There is an absolutely adorable aesthetic here and this is the kind of title that will nuzzle right up to your chest and force you to love it. Everything is great except for when it is time to get to the actual "game" portion, and here Unravel sort of, well, unravels. There are a couple of interesting segments here and there, but the platforming isn't challenging enough, nor are the puzzles clever enough to leave a lasting impression. It's lucky the game has as much heart as it does, because it is somehow still a rewarding and interesting experience in spite of these rather significant shortcomings. A better experience than a game, Unravel is still worth a look.

Developer

Coldwood Interactive

Publisher

EA

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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