“Worn Heartstrings”

Developer: Coldwood Interactive
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: February 9, 2016
Copy purchased

Last year during the bustling week of E3, creative director Martin Sahlin took the stage at EA’s media briefing, capturing our hearts with Unravel’s humble and heartfelt reveal. Months later, Unravel has arrived, bringing with it the same sense of honesty and charm that stole the briefing back in June. This is evident before the game even gets going, with a modest note from the developers greeting players and thanking them for picking up the title on the opening screen. Behind the sincerely presented message, lies a charming, yet severely flawed platformer, reliant upon its strengths of extraordinary visuals and stellar music to carry it through the turbulent and uneven journey that awaits.Unravel (Braxton Haugen) 1 Much like its heartwarming unveiling, Unravel is a nervous game. Coldwood Interactive captures you with its sweet wool protagonist and stunning visual presentation, invoking a palpable sense of nostalgia, alongside an array of tone-driven narrative sparks. These initial glimpses of promise are no doubt in place thanks to Unravel’s absolutely gorgeous style, proliferated by superb visual and audio cues. Unfortunately, beyond Unravel’s presentational beauty, the game finds itself at a loss of compelling direction. The experience lacks cohesion, motivation, and ultimately confidence, most notably apparent in its reliance on subtlety to push the needle forward. What’s hinted at within Unravel’s attempt at storytelling is something perhaps profound, but we’re never offered a clear enough look to draw that conclusion. Instead, we’re left with a selection of visually enticing and detailed levels, void of any stimulating challenge.

Beyond that of the frustration stemming from tedious platforming sections along the adventure, Unravel simply doesn’t ask much of players from a gameplay perceptive. Controlling the cute mascot, Yarny, is charming, though traversing about fails to pass the player any sense of deeper agency. You’ll run, jump, and swing from point to point, occasionally constructing small rope bridges with Yarny’s red makings. With this basic set of abilities, Yarny faces a variety of environmental puzzles over the course of Unravel’s five to six hour runtime. Once having completed a few puzzles, you’ve pretty much seen the extent of variation in these challenges. There’s a noticeable lack of joy that comes with tinkering with solutions, thanks to ill-executed platforming and repetitive hoops to jump through. The charm and curious nature that made Unravel’s opening moments compelling, shortly fade, adjusting to promote monotonous levels that almost immediately overstay their welcome.Unravel (Braxton Haugen) 2 Without Unravel’s heart, I’m afraid everything would crumble, though for Yarny’s sake, Coldwood Interactive manages to portray some touching moments in the thick of uneventfulness. Perhaps the most pronounced of these simply highlight Yarny trotting through the environment, conveying a sense of bewilderment that mirrors that of a curious child. Through these sequences, Unravel toys with actually going somewhere, but the brief and unexplored use of these sections eventually grow just as meandering as the game housing them. This lack of substance begins to wear on the overall experience. Below the surface, it’s clear Unravel is bubbling with emotions, but unfortunately the game never goes deeper than that of its face value. As the journey progresses, I found myself increasingly disinterested in pretty much everything that was going on, with the exception of the consistently stellar audiovisuals.

There’s a sentimental complexity to Unravel’s narrative presentation, with the likes of photographs and other imagery clearing a path for narrative bits to shine through. Though even when demonstrating such dedication, Unravel continues to falter in retaining its confidence to prevail. From a storytelling standpoint Unravel seems to be full of ideas, however, none are given proper attention. The closest Unravel comes to feeling fresh or original during its excursion is when Yarny suddenly begins to run out of yarn, revealing the wireframe that holds the creature together. This forces you, as the player, to rethink your approach to puzzles and simple traversal, for stretching Yarny’s limits could easily land you in a tough spot. Like many of Unravel’s other aspects, this mechanic struggles to embrace its potential in a gameplay sense. For a platformer, Unravel plays things incredibly safe. It demonstrates little in terms of challenge or precision, resulting in a final product that can’t even begin to entwine itself in the strengths of its respective genre.Unravel (Braxton Haugen) 3ConclusionUnravel isn’t quite a poor game, but it’s one that fails to expand past that of its surface presentation. Aside from its enticing imagery and swelling score, there wasn’t much I found entertaining or particularly interesting about Yarny’s adventure. It’s a straightforward platformer that tangles itself up in the fundamentals. Chief to this downfall is the fact Unravel doesn’t play all that well, creating for constant frustration and a lack of trust in the game’s most basic rules. Underneath it all, Unravel seems to want to tell a passionate and personal tale, but it never speaks up. This isn’t to say a game can’t convey a message without preaching to the player; Journey, a game barren of any sort of spoken word had me in tears during its conclusion. Somewhere when riding this line of narrative motivation Unravel stumbles, though rather than adjusting its balance, it falls. While tumbling, a few aspects of the title show initiative in attempting a rescue, such as light environmental puzzles and storytelling. Though once a plan has been put into action, it’s too late, only making things worse, bogging down what could have been an endearing experience with unjustifiable frustration and annoying meandering motives.

Connect with me on Twitter and let me know your thoughts on Unravel. Find me @BraxHaugen.