Unravel is a beautiful 2D platformer with physics based puzzle elements that utilize the adorable Yarny’s thread based powers. The game's world is undeniably lush, but this isn't always enough to keep you motivated through the long slow levels.
Between the adorable lead character Yarny - a four inch tall creature made of red yarn – and its heartfelt reveal at E3 by the game's terrified but sincere director Martin Sahlin, Unravel stole gamer’s hearts. And this sincerity is clear in every part of this game that is clearly a labor of love for everyone involved.
The story begins with an elderly woman reminiscing over a faded photo album. Once she leaves, Yarny springs from her balls of wool with the goal of refreshing the album to create a stronger bond – a metaphor that permeates the whole game.
Jumping through the house, he finds photo frames that he can leap into. There are ten of these in total, each providing a doorway to one of Unravel's lengthy levels. It’s a charmingly rustic hub world, that provide a good excuse for the game's range of natural environments.
Every level offers a new, distinctly different look, feel, and challenge. When you are traversing the almost photo realistic beach, you can expect Yarny to be washed away if he is not on top of a pillar, while in the calming woodland he may be – somewhat distressingly – torn apart by a gofer.
All strung out
Luckily, Unravel has equipped Yarny with enough tools for you to get him out of trouble. His wool based body... unravels… as he moves forward, but any surplus thread can be used for a variety of purposes. You can lasso items to climb and swing over gaps, or build trampolines and ramps by tying-off two parts of the thread.
You have a finite supply of wool and it’s easy to run out of thread mid-puzzle if you are inefficient, forcing you to backtrack. Here is one of Unravel’s mechanical issues, as with your thread only visible through Yarny's body and no HUD, it can be hard to judge how much you have remaining.
To alleviate some of this, regular checkpoints refill Yarny's spindly body, so you know any mistakes are not too far back. This is a real mercy because at times the relaxed speed of movement through levels can feel infuriating slow when you can see a solution and just want to execute on it.
The physics puzzles work well, and it is hard not to grin when rappelling Yarny up slopes to reach one of Unravel's hidden buttons. Unfortunately the pace, number, and scale of puzzles can combine to make areas feel exhausting and unrewarding when you are faced with one slow to solve problem after another.
Pulling the threads together
Unravel is a solid puzzle platformer that stands out because of the love and care that the developers at Coldwood Interactive clearly had for the project. And in a 2016, when this classic genre has few main stream representatives, this could actually be enough to recommend it – because despite its slow speed and handful of niggles, there is plenty of fun to be had.