Remember E3 in June of 2015? Specifically, do you remember watching EA’s press conference. I do.
There was this moment during the press conference when a nervous developer named Martin Sahlin took center stage. He was alone, a little on the quiet side, holding a red doll and visibly shaking. I’d be nervous, too, of course. I’m sure I’d be shaking.
I remember this moment because that developer showed the world Unravel for the first time. His game, featuring the red doll named Yarny, took everyone in the room by surprise.
Here was this nervous developer pitching a 2D puzzle game with gorgeous graphics and a character that slowly unravels as players play. He was doing it alongside massive space RPGs like Mass Effect and the colossal Star Wars Battlefront. The game looked incredible, and his nervous passion sort of connected everyone watching even more than a standard reveal.
I’ve been rooting for Unravel. It has spirit, just like its devs Sahlin and Coldwood Interactive. The game is good, but it isn’t perfect. It has its moments of wonder, but they sit between lengths of conflicting labor.
Memories connected by yarn.
The premise of Unravel, and the look itself, really, are fantastically pretty. As Yarny, you explore memories of the past as a trail of yarn unravels behind you. You, quite literally, string the memories together for an aging family.
You’ll move through each level, often hitting an impasse that requires some thorough thinking rather than twitch reflexes. You’ll use the yarn that unwinds off of your body in order to make little string bridges, trampolines, swings and pulleys. Here’s me playing the game’s first chapter.
This all happens in a 2D environment with a 3D background. Unravel is easily one of the best looking games I’ve played in a long time. The textures of the world around Yarny, the animals that weave in and out of the scene, the lighting, the movement of plants and trees. Really, this game is aesthetically top-notch.
The music, too, is fantastic. The soundtrack swells with heart at the right time, and its violins know when to quicken during moments of stress or fear.
I truly dug the vibe with this game, and there were whole chunks where I found a smile spreading over my face as I swung and leapt from knot to knot on the way to collecting whatever little do-dad I needed for my photo album.
You’ve done this before.
The problem is that this all feels like window dressing on games that we’ve all played before. If you’ve picked up even one game with a 2D platformer/puzzler hook (even if the puzzles are a small portion of the experience), you’ve played this before.
The pushing and pulling of objects is reminiscent of LittleBigPlanet. The plodding movement of the game reminds me so much of Limbo. The way Yarny latches on and swings from point to point feels almost exactly like Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash.
I’m absolutely not suggesting that these mechanics were lifted from other games. Please, don’t take it that way. I’m simply saying that the 2D platforming genre is becoming old hat. This game is beautiful and charming, but it’s still very much the same thing as everything else at its core.
I don’t know if I expected too much different here, and that’s why I’m not going to hammer Unravel too hard with my final recommendation. I totally recognize that I might be suffering from genre fatigue more than you are at this point.
However, 2D platformers with a puzzle hook? Yeah, I think I need a break.
Unravel is an undeniably great looking game that packs a lot of heart. It can also be a slog, so make sure you’re ready for that.
My emotions while playing Unravel were all over place. I’d oscillate between having fun, feeling stressed, experiencing a bit of sorrow and sitting downright perplexed. Those are all wonderful things for a game, and its ambiance and music really push those feelings to nearly their full potential.
However, I’d also feel myself slipping into boredom and frustrations at times. Maybe it’s because I’ve played so, so many of these 2D games with puzzle and physics-based hooks, but some segments of the game felt downright laborious. Some mechanics, like having to swat flies away in order to move through an area with speed, felt more like slogs than moments of fun, and that’s not what you want in a video game.
By the time I was done with Unravel, I felt almost equal measures of satisfaction and relief. This is a well made game with a wonderful sense of spirit that stands as one of the best looking and, at times, playing titles I’ve experienced in a while. It’s also a bit of a chore, and I don’t think I’ll ever pick it up again.
I can easily recommend Unravel to those not tired of the 2D genre. If you have a soft heart for particularly good looking games with a sense of emotion behind them, this one is a great way to get that fix. I also think its worth supporting a game like this coming from EA, the publisher behind it. This is not a normal EA game in my mind, and I’d like to show them with money spent that I’d rather be playing new and creative IPs than the next Battlefield skin.
Is Unravel good enough to warrant running out and purchasing right away? Only if you don’t play this genre constantly. It will surely find its way into a sale, and it’s absolutely worth picking up at some point. If you’re ready for a new 2D platformer, swing in. Otherwise, wait for a seasonal dip.
Disclaimer: We received a code to download and play Unravel on the PlayStation 4.