Unravel review - A heart-warming adventure to mend broken bonds
Unravel is a true current gen side-scroller that combines interesting gameplay with fantastic visuals, interactive environments, and near perfect sound design.
The story is basic but heart-warming, and the adorable main character, Yarny, is a great protagonist who you develop a fond attachment to during your playtime. Gameplay and level design is typically very good, though it does suffer from overly simplistic puzzles, as well as a number of tedious trial and error moments which spoil the pacing of the game somewhat.
From a graphical and visual viewpoint, the game is stunning, with excellent detail for a side-scrolling platformer. It offers breathtaking vistas, from snow-covered fields, right down to dark, dingy bogs. Unravel also greatly succeeds in its music and sound design ,which both perfectly compliment every moment, whether it be happy and exciting or melancholic and sad.
Mend those bonds
There really isn't much to Unravel's story, but that does not mean it is a let down. It is simple but effective. As Yarny, a lovable character made of red yarn, it is your mission to reconnect your broken and forgotten memories by entering various photographs placed around the house.
As you progress through each level, you relive a lifetime of experiences and learn more about the values of family, love, trust and friendship. The story teaches you that life can be both wonderful and brutal, perhaps personified by the multiple times Yarny soars through areas with ease but then struggles and dies in the harsher environments.
The game pulls on your heart strings more and more as you get closer to the end, but unfortunately fails to deliver any real conclusion despite all of your efforts. Don't get me wrong -- it still nearly brought me to tears, but I was nevertheless left with a bit of an empty feeling of "is that it?" as I watched the final cutscene play out. This was a shame, considering how touching the game was in many other parts.
Connecting the knots
Each level offers a different look, style, and feel. Some focus more on verticality and has you climbing up trees and swinging between branches, whilst others place you in precarious situations where making a mistake will result in death. An example of this would be sections where you jump to and balance on small floating objects suspended on water. Falling off usually results in drowning.
There are far more examples, and this keeps the game varied enough to remain interesting as you progress. It would have been nice to have more extended rope swinging sections, as these were few and far between but exceedingly liberating when they did actually occur. The free flowing sections, in which you quickly progress through a good portion of a level, are definitely Unravel's biggest strength in terms of gameplay.
The controls are very straightforward and easy to master. You learn how to jump, grab objects, use your lasso, climb, swing, and tie knots to make bridges in the first level. These features are heavily utilized throughout your play through. The core aspect of the game is how Yarny's body unravels as you progress between checkpoints. Some routes and puzzles cannot be completed unless you find extra thread to replenish your body. It was nice to see something innovative like this, which was part of Unravel's marketing and made it stand out.
Most puzzles are easy to solve, too easy in many cases, with some requiring a bit more trial and error. Unfortunately these moments have a negative impact on the game, as I found myself getting frustrated at the clunkyness of the controls when trying to complete these sections. With that said, it was very enjoyable and satisfying when you succeeded in what you were trying to do.
Graphically speaking, Unravel really does look fantastic. Coldwood Interactive did a fantastic job at creating a visually appealing, detailed and interactive world. The light effects are flawless and every level's backdrop are breathtaking and unique in their own way. Although some areas are more memorable than others, each one immerses you in a different emotional experience. You'll be happy, sad, carefree, and scared for Yarny's safety, depending on the environment. It's not only the backgrounds that are excellent either. The small details like flitting butterflies, falling pine cones and various weather conditions all add to the experience and look equally beautiful.
The sweet sound of Scandinavia
In my opinion the sound design of Unravel is it's biggest strength. Since the game is based in Sweden, Coldwood teamed up with two local composers, Henrik Oja and Frida Johansson, who produced the entire soundtrack in the Swedish style. The music perfectly fits each moment, matching the emotion you, and presumably Yarny, are feeling. With the absence of any dialogue, it tells the story of Unravel and does an exceptional job of absorbing you into the memories you are exploring.
It doesn't end there. The environment sounds are also practically perfect in every way. The rustling of leaves, the snap of a branch, the sound of the wind and waves, to name just a few examples, seem so realistic that you may start to think you're actually outside. Sound is such an important feature in any video game -- and if this review was based on it alone, Unravel would unequivocally earn a 10 out of 10.
Although it occasionally suffers from some tedious gameplay features and concludes with a somewhat lackluster ending, Unravel is nonetheless a solid side-scrolling platformer that deserves its place on current gen consoles. It combines interesting gameplay, excellent visuals and damn near flawless sound design to make for an enjoyable, heart-warming, and tear-jerking experience.