I’m just going to start out by saying right away that I hate puzzle games. Puzzle platformers like Limbo and Albert And Otto drive me absolutely insane because I suck at puzzles. Even in some of my favorite games like the Silent Hill series, I would always have to ask for help when it came to the puzzles. But in Unravel, the puzzles aren’t hell-bent on having you tear your hair out due to frustration. The puzzles in Unravel are almost relaxing—and tie into a very thought-provoking, tender narrative.
The graphics in Unravel are stunning, from the intricate particle effects to the way the lips and face move on the old woman at the beginning of the game. The reflections in the water feel so realistic and the change in environment and lighting is impressive. I don’t think I’ve ever played a puzzle platformer that looked so pretty. And because of the realistic feel of the graphics, you really feel the adventurous vibe that’s emanating from Yarny as he sets out on his journey beyond the house. When you look at other puzzle platformers like Limbo, it’s a very dark and shadowy game with a stylistic art style, but Unravel feels open and hopeful and bright—even mystical and innocent. And i think it feels more personal than Limbo did despite just being a puzzle platformer. Check out the trailer below.
What I truly enjoyed about Unravel was the apparent presence of a narrative. For me, I am a person who relies heavily on story in video games. In other words, the story can make or break the game for me. In Limbo, I didn’t feel a story. It felt like an empty puzzle platformer with a touch of gothic horror. But Unravel made its narrative stand out from the beginning. Yarny was getting out of the house to experience adventure and you feel the importance of the journey and the innocence and naiveté of Yarny in this new environment. And you see his family, more importantly the woman who was responsible for his very existence. And right away you are already feeling something for the main protagonist. And I loved that. From the family photographs to the ghostly images in the background during gameplay, each step of the way I was left feeling empathetic for Yarny’s yearning.
The puzzles themselves weren’t as difficult as I had initially worried they were going to be. Instead, the puzzles relied heavily on looking at a situation and trying to figure out the best escape method dependant on what you were given. For example, you always have a strand of yarn stringing behind you, so you have to be wary of that so as to not use up a lot of yarn. Yarny also has certain abilities with his yarn, like lassoing it onto special nails, tying the yarn to create bouncy bridges and using the yarn to tug on objects. The gameplay was very simple to understand and once I had used the abilities a couple times, I easily memorized how to do which ability. While the puzzles weren’t making me tear my hair out, they also weren’t easy. Sometimes I’d have to take a step back and stare at my surroundings before I could try another idea. But that was the beauty of these puzzles in Unravel, I wanted to try and complete them. That’s never happened to me before because, well, I really do hate puzzles.
There were a couple things I thought could be a little clearer in the game. In Unravel, you have the ability to pull things and the tutorial had you pulling an object so that you could stand on it or use it in some other way. And up until a certain point in the game, all of the pulling interaction was occurring with loose objects like rocks. It took me the longest time to figure out that certain levers that looked like a part of the scenery were actually pullable. On that note, I didn’t realize the place with the photo, which was the doorway into the first level, was actually a hub with many pictures that led into different themed levels dependent on the type of photograph that was taken. For example, the photograph of everyone at the beach was a water/sea-themed level. That discovery of the hub was only possible through exploration, and I suppose I don’t mind a little extra exploration.
It’s surprising that someone who absolutely hates puzzle games actually enjoyed the puzzle gameplay in Unravel, but I think I have the narrative and the visuals to thank for that. Unravel tells the all-too-familiar story of longing and reconnection with those that have been lost, and the emotions are so apparent in the gameplay despite a single word never being spoken. Yarny was the epitome of a delicate and fragile being, yet he could overcome dangerous obstacles like flood waters, harsh environments and angry crabs—and those actions alone spoke loudly of Yarny’s character. As subtle as the story was and as empathetic I became towards Yarny, it kept me wanting to play more. I never thought I’d say this, but Unravel is unlike any other puzzle game I’ve ever played and I can only hope that more puzzle games down the road hitch a ride on the Unravel bandwagon.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Coldwood Interactive