developer: Coldwood Interactive
|ESRB rating: RP
release date: Feb 09, 16
|» All About Unravel on ActionTrip|
In the wake of the overwhelmingly positive reception of The Witness, EA’s decided to take their best shot at the puzzle genre with their gorgeous looking platformer, Unravel. Developed by Coldwood Interactive, the game was essentially the studio’s “Hail Mary” pass, after a series of troubled projects. This drastic deviation from their previous releases, which were primarily racing or sports games, was a tectonic shift to say the least. The result was this charming little character named, Yarny. Can this adorable little bundle of thread make an impact in a world that is already puzzle crazy or will it end up being left unsolved?
Do you remember the time tested mechanics of moving from the left side of the screen to the right, while circumventing whatever obstacles stand in your way? If so, then you should know everything necessary to sink your teeth into Unravel. Throughout the progress of the game, the challenges cover a wide variety of environmental puzzles, revolving around a fairly singular thread: Everything important is just out of reach. It is up to the player to manipulate the surroundings in a way that will make that next point of interest within Yarny’s grasp. Additionally, there are a series of secret badges that are hidden in every stage. These collectables act as an interesting distraction, within an otherwise rote level structure.
Solutions to puzzles can take several forms. In some cases, players must perform physics-based tasks in order to proceed. Other times, the key is finding interesting ways to manipulate existing environmental tools, in order to clear otherwise insurmountable impediments. Initially, the game’s 2D art design, featuring intricately detailed and fully animated backgrounds, can make it difficult to determine which items are in the foreground and actively usable, as opposed to background window-dressing. However, after a few stages spent flailing at inanimate objects, it becomes a bit clearer which pieces actually play into each visual riddle.
Another weird quirk in Unravel’s mechanics involve how the yarn is used. For example, if two nails are relatively close to each other, they can sometimes be strung together to create a very tightly wound tripwire. This wire can be used to navigate from one side of a chasm to another, usually while pushing or pulling an object. Players can also use these tightropes to jump on and vault themselves to new heights. The main issue with creating each line bridge is that unless the nails are tied together in the precise order the designers imagined, the line will remain slack. Once again, this is an issue that can be overcame through continued play and increased familiarity with the mechanics, but there are still plenty of frustrating scenarios where the way that these physics reacted, just didn’t make much sense.
When you take a step back after spending a bit of time playing Unravel, it is hard to deny that the game’s adorable protagonist steals the whole damn show. He can swing. He can climb. Hell, he can even walk a trapeze of his own design. But there is one thing that this anthropomorphic cotton fabrication cannot do: learn new mechanics. Once you have completed the tutorial, the evolution of Yarny comes to a screeching halt. This limited set of tools will be all players need to understand to complete the entirety of the campaign. Depending upon the audience, this fact could be interpreted either positively or negatively. But regardless of how this fact is construed, it is still evidence of very effective game design, containing mechanics with genuine depth and nuance.
As Yarny continues his constant quest from left to right, he comes across a free form story of sorts, told through a series of translucent still frame images (think Obi-Wan Kenobi in Empire or Jedi, if he was constantly buffering). Each stage has its own mini arch that tells a standalone tale. The core conceit of each level seems fairly straightforward, but there is never a word of dialog spoken in the game. It would be safe to assume that this is done intentionally, in order to leave the plot to the interpretation of the player. This is hardly going to be an experience that wins any awards for narrative, due to its rather subjective nature, but rest assured that at least a few of these moments have the potential to emotionally resonate.
The aforementioned emotional moments are even further enhanced by the score, which is stellar to say the least. While never stealing attention away from the tasks at hand, the amazingly atmospheric approach added so much to key set pieces. Even in the more chaotic flashes when the soundtrack would take a more feverish pitch, it effectively did so in order to amplify the sense of urgency or panic that the player should be feeling. Conversely, tugs at the heartstrings were complimented by mellow, haunting themes that helped establish the weight of a scene. From beginning to end, this effective use of melody easily helps to distinguish a title that in many respects, could be lost amongst a sea of its peers.
In an age where big name publishers like Electronic Arts are built around reiterating franchises, it is hard to believe that Unravel even exists (Totally agree there. A new IP is always a shock in this Age of Sequels and Prequels and Reboots – Ed. Vader).
Coldwood Interactive has managed to generate a refreshing new take on the puzzle platformer, starring an endearing protagonist that will steal your heart. For those looking to scratch that puzzling itch without having to bite of something as overwhelming as The Witness, this will prove to be a more than adequate salve. As long as you are not a fan of scissors, that is…
8.0 Very Good
Insanely realistic visuals, Yarny is irresistibly adorable, the use of environmental scoring is outstanding, once you have perfected the core mechanics, you will be able to tackle anything the game has to offer;
Trying to use yarn structures effectively is a bit frustrating and takes time, once you have perfected the core mechanics, you will be able to tackle anything the game has to offer.
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