One of the most talked about games at last years E3 event, Unravel came out of nowhere, onto the EA press briefing stage of all places, and stole the spotlight from anything else in that entire presentation.
The first thing we ever actually saw of the game was when creator Martin Sahlin pulled out a doll made of yarn from his pocket on the E3 stage, and introduced us to Yarny, Unravel’s ‘protagonist’ of sorts.
Perhaps it’s no accident that the Yarny doll was the first thing we saw about the game. Sahlin has recounted the story many times of how he borrowed a ball of yarn from a kid while on a hiking trip (the unnamed teen is even credited in the game), and from that Unravel was born.
Sahlin also isn’t afraid to state how his team defied the rules of conventional game creation, coming up with a protagonist and a story before starting work on the actual game itself.
And this ultimately shows in Unravel, for better or worse. Yarny and the loosely told story are very front and centre of the game, so front and centre in fact, that I’m not even sure we can strictly define this as the platformer it was billed to be.
As Yarny you’ll attempt to make it through each of the ten levels, trying to reach the next checkpoint (which is displayed in the form of a ball of yarn) before you run of of yarn with which to keep yourself running along.
On the way, you’ll have to guide Yarny through death traps such as pools of water, ravens, crabs, and even factory machinery. I actually quite enjoyed the trip along the countryside of northern Sweden where Coldwood Interactive Studios is based, albeit with a few minor hiccups in the physics of the game.
And this is where the dubious “platformer” brand comes into contention. This isn’t a platformer, mainly because you aren’t actually navigating Yarny up and down platforms. If you were, it quite frankly wouldn’t be a very good platformer, since Yarny’s ability to both jump and actually stay on platforms is severely lacking throughout the game.
Like I said, you’re instead guiding Yarny throughout the picturesque Swedish landscape, all with the end goal of finding a yarn item at the end of the level. From there, you’ll take this item back to the “hub” area of the game and attach it to picture book, unlocking a series of pictures for each one which tells a certain story.
And this is really where Unravel’s fantastic storytelling comes into play. The pictures you unlock can show you basically anything from the life of Sahlin and others. It’ll show you things such as love and loss within family, but it also shows how corporate society has ruined the once beautiful Swedish landscape. Add in the fact that all the photos are from real life and not computer generated, and you’ve got some great storytelling on your hands.
Now granted, Unravel never actually “tackles” these themes as such. It more presents them to you in the most simplistic form possible through the pictures, but in doing this the game really encourages you to form your own opinions on the subjects raised through the pictures, which in my opinion is quite commendable.
As I mentioned earlier, all this story and character detail was created before the actual mechanics or methods of the gameplay were brought about, and this definitely hampers Unravel when it comes time to judge the finished product (as I am doing here).
But I really believe that everyone should try and look past the “platforming” game that was marketed to them, and instead focus on what the game actually does, because it does it rather well. I enjoyed traversing the landscape, if not for the few physical hiccups in the game, and I also thoroughly enjoyed the story that the game had to tell.
In the end Unravel is a great game, telling several sad and sobering real life stories of family, loss and greed. The landscape and setting of the game are also equally beautiful propelling this concise tale to a new level.