Review: Unravel (PS4)

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Title: Unravel
Format: PlayStation Network Download (3.07 GB)
Release Date: February 9, 2016
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: ColdWood Interactive
Original MSRP: $19.99
ESRB Rating: E
Unravel is also available on Xbox One and PC.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Unravel is EA’s newest foray into the indie video game scene and with an adorable protagonist it is a modest attempt. The story is rather ambiguous and not laid out in a direct manner. You play as Yarny, who is a little red doll made of yarn who appears to be assembling a scrapbook by going through the memories from photographs.

Yarny will approach a photo and will warp into a level based on that photograph. It’s through these levels that bits of the story are displayed as faded memories. I’ll be honest, the story did not connect with me at all and I cannot quite figure out why. This is not to say that it won’t reach an emotional level with others, but it just did not do much for me.

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The game is a physics puzzle platformer. You jump and and swing Yarny through realistic environments to reach the end of each level to find a piece of the scrapbook. Throughout each level there will be a number of secrets to find as side objectives, but their level of importance is not stressed and they’re completely optionional.

The catch with Unravel is that Yarny is constantly being unraveled as he progresses through the level. This makes Yarny’s movements finite as he slowly unwinds to just his wire frame. Throughout a level there will be additional bundles of yarn that will give him more slack to move which also serve as checkpoints.

… reset to the last checkpoint …
It is an interesting mechanic that makes every move important because backtracking to regain yarn does not always work as checkpoints will limit how far you can go back. The limitations on movements does have a negative side effect which made the idea of exploring seem too risky since it will use up precious yarn needed to finish a level.

The game is rather generous in this respect because anytime you hold down on the D-pad it resets to the previous checkpoint where Yarny will be fully intact and ready to continue. There is no sadder time than just being a mere couple of inches from your goal only for the yarn to run out. At these points backtracking rarely works so the only option is to reset to the last checkpoint.

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Navigating levels is done using strands of yarn to pass obstacles and creatures. Yarny is able to fling yarn to grab onto objects to use them for leverage for swings. You can also use strands of yarn to make bridges that double as trampolines. There are not a lot of mechanics to work with and this works generally in the game’s favor as it prevents itself from becoming too complicated.

Puzzles can brush against brilliance and border on frustrating and it makes for an uneven experience. I had many ups and downs in my playthrough with the platforming sometimes getting in the way. Jumps and especially swings often felt like they were not going to connect or connected when I thought they were going to miss.

There are some specific instances that become frustrating and they tend to be the times where precision is absolutely necessary for success. Whenever there were creatures to work against the game would lose me, but when the game relied on pure basic platforming/puzzles I found it to be the most fun.

… beautiful outdoor locations …
The number of moments where I felt accomplished just slightly edged out the number of moments where I felt frustrated. The game starts great and borders on frustrating in some parts in the middle, only for it get back on track for the last third of the game.

Visuals:
The one thing that this game nails with amazing execution is the visual style. The environments are stunning and look almost real. Unravel takes place in a real world and encompasses beautiful outdoor locations.

From the lush forests to the backyard of a house it is all beautifully rendered in great detail. I often would find myself wanting to explore more of the world only to be stopped because Yarny was down to his sad wire frame.

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Yarny is the star of this game and he is the heart at the core. He is a cute little guy made of yarn and though he lacks real facial features he is rather expressive with his body language. His design is simple and iconic akin to Sackboy from LittleBigPlanet.

He is not the only character in the game with some humans and animals making brief appearances and they are also rendered in great detail. The art style is really spectacular and impressive for a game at this scale.

Audio:
The music of Unravel goes well with whatever the story is trying to achieve. It is full of string instruments that serve as the voice of the game. There are no spoken words in the story which leaves a lot of the storytelling on the shoulders of the music.

… trying to deliver an emotional journey …
Each song heard throughout a level is there to help express what the game wants you to feel in the moment. It is quite beautiful on its own outside of the game, but when accompanied by the game it is elevated that much more.

Even though the story did not do much for me I cannot deny how well the music works in helping express the story and the emotions that could be achieved with the right person.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

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Conclusion:
I do not know if I was expecting more from Unravel and that is why I had mixed feelings about my overall experience. At its core it is a relatively simple platformer that is trying to deliver an emotional journey.

The gameplay gets knocked back a step or two by its physics and sometimes frustrating level design. While I could see the attempts to tug at my heart strings it did not strike me emotionally. This could all be me and it may do more for someone else so I will not strike the game down for that aspect.

Musically, it achieves something great. While the story did not reach me, the music certainly did and it is easy to see how it plays an invaluable role in the overall journey and emotional aspect. The music along with the stunning visual presentation are the standout features.

When I look at it from a gameplay standpoint it is an interesting game that does not quite reach the highest heights though it feels like it could be on the verge of achieving greatness. It might not be perfect, but it is still a worthwhile experience.

Score:
7.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Michael Cwick

Michael Cwick

Just a nerd from the Windy City. I’m actually really bad at describing myself because I get all self-critical and self-conscious. Follow me on Twitter, @The1stMJC, to see my borderline insane rants on tv shows and other non important subjects. If I’m not tweeting I’m probably just watching Buffy or Firefly for the millionth time.

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