For the obviously super talented individuals at Coldwood Interactive far up in the most northern part of wintry cold Sweden, Unravel has very clearly been a passion project. Not only after spending the six or seven hours it took us to get through the game itself, but also since we saw our first glimpse of it. Of all the announcements, big and small, beamed out to us at last year's E3, it was Martin Sahlin and his personal presentation of Unravel that we remember the most vividly. Not necessarily just because the game looked to be potentially very special, but also because of the man himself, who looked so nervous that he was on the verge of falling apart at any time, but who still managed to tell us about his creation.
Sahlin did not give us the usual PR crap about "innovative experiences" and other such nonsense. Instead, he told us with childlike enthusiasm about how he was on a camping trip with his family and how he was inspired to create the figure Yarny, and how he photographed the little fellow in different situations in the wild to get an idea about how a game about a little yarn doll might look and work were it based around an adventure in the North Swedish countryside. Sahlin and the rest of the Coldwood team really love what they've done with this game and it shows in all respects. Unravel is as typically Swedish as any game we've ever seen, and it's really a product of its environment, and it's impossible not to see how personal the game has been for all involved.
Unravel is a puzzle-platformer in which the player - in the role of Yarny - revisits an aging lady's memories. These memories are actually more about different themes, emotions and places, rather than specific events. The game deals with a wide repertoire of ideas and concepts, such as happiness, family and home, but also considerably darker themes like environmental destruction, death, loss and regret. All the ideas featured here have of course been examined in countless games before it, but the way they are presented to us in Unravel is so vague and unspecific that we're left filling in the gaps with our own experiences, feelings and memories, taking us on a personal and evocative journey in a way we haven't experienced before.
It often happens that we focus a lot on the most aesthetically original game worlds, where we salute design that is deeply unrealistic because we love to be enthralled by impossible utopias (as well as the odd dystopia). Unravel shows that boundless beauty is to be found all around us, we just need to look a little more closely. This game world is completely based on environments that we (Swedes in particular) can relate to, and they're filled full of familiar and everyday objects that many of us will have at home. Unravel is very down to earth in this respect, and very few of the environments extend beyond the boundaries of what is normal for us. This is supported by graphics that are verging on photo-realistic, which of course only adds to the homely feel.
Nor is it "merely" a beautiful experience with graphics to die for and a heartwarming message, there is a fun on top of all that too. Those who are hoping for something like Super Meat Boy, with it's perfectly timed, death-defying jumps and precision platforming, might be a little bit disappointed. Equally, this is not an Ori and the Blind Forest-kind if platformer that has you going back and forth in search of the ways to progress. Instead, Unravel is strictly linear, with distinct paths being tackled in a specific order (seeing as how we're talking comparisons, in terms of linearity something like Limbo would be a comparable example).
The puzzles in Unravel are more often than not physics-based and very smartly assembled and cleverly structured. The player finds themselves in some really tricky situations where they need to use his yarn lasso to manipulate the environment so that Yarny can move forward. This may involve building a small bridge of yarn so you can carry a tin can to the other side of a chasm which you then need to use as a stool to reach a high ledge, or perhaps something as simple as swinging forward from branch to branch in a tree. Yarny is always firmly tied to the beginning of the course and there's a need to find new yarn so you can continue on your journey (he can unravel too much, which the title alludes to). By the end you have left a trail behind you that clearly shows your progress. Let's call it the "red thread" of your story.
We really enjoyed our time with Unravel. It's a very special game, with clever puzzle design, gorgeous aesthetics and more than capable game mechanics. However, there is one problem that may very well halt the game's chances of becoming an immortal classics - and that is that we have unfortunately seen much of what it has to offer before.
Gameplay-wise it reminds a bit of Limbo, and this new physics-based puzzle game never really takes its concept to new, unexplored heights. Sure, we get a different perspective on it due to the fact that Yarny is constantly being unravelled as the yarn is used up during the levels, and yes he leaves a thread behind which the player must keep in mind as they ponder the challenge ahead of them, but the puzzles themselves break no new ground. Nor is this the first time we have had the pleasure of seeing a character made entirely of yarn.
But having played the game through do we care about that? We do not. Although Unravel may not be the most unique game that will be released this year, here and now it's one of the finest experiences you buy. Coldwood Interactive has, despite its name, created something that warms the heart as much as it entertains.