Unravel (XB1) Review

Ken McKown

Tugging on the wrong strings.

This generation has seen its fair share of physics-based platformers. Instructing a player on how to handle the puzzles presented before them, and then watching them uncover said puzzles is an addictive formula. When Unravel was unveiled it seemed to be more than that. It seemed to take the ideas of those platformers and toss a new mechanic into the mix, on top of being extraordinarily adorable. Sadly, these ideas never manifest into anything more than frustrations later in the game, and end up making Yarny and his adventure feel painfully average.

There is a clear narrative being introduced throughout Unravel. It feels somber at times, and joyous at others. It is definitely a story about journey, and the team at Coldwood has done an amazing job conveying emotion without a single bit of dialogue. Yarny’s animations display more emotion than some 20-minute dialogue sequences in other games. He is relatable, he has clearly been through a lot, and the fact that the team could emulate that without words is impressive.

unravel_04

MSRP: $19.99
Platforms: XB1, PS4, PC
Price I’d Pay: $9.99

Each level fills out a new section of a scrapbook, and each one focuses on a different memory. The themes are transparent, but also powerful. This is less and less of a platformer and more of a way to secretly tell a story. It works on this level, which does help mask the mediocre game play itself.

As a platformer Unravel is extremely pedestrian. A lot of the systems at play here are reminiscent of any puzzle-platformer from the past five years. Move objects to reach higher areas, creating platforms with the environment, all standard stuff. The yarn mechanic is the only novel feature, and it is marred by poor design choices. If Yarny exhausted his string, I had to backtrack to figure out where I went wrong, creating plenty of busywork that is simply not fun.

Yarny can also swing from specific points, but it feels spotty at best. I was constantly hooking onto the wrong points, or simply not able to maneuver into the areas the game was requiring me to hit. It is all frustrating after a while. The game has a reset option at any point, and I used it regularly. The game manages to get players into positions they cannot get out of, thus stretching the already brief campaign almost twice as long as it should be.

The biggest problem I had is that it all felt forced. The emotional narrative the game is presenting seems divorced from the actual “game” at play here. I am not normally an advocate for games presented without some sort of mechanic to progress the story, but Unravel feels like an experience forced to be a game. Like the mechanics were added after the core journey was already created. Sadly, this is one game that could have benefitted with just being a catalyst to tell an extremely emotional tale.

unravel_01

One thing that is undeniable about Unravel is how gorgeous it is. Very few games can convey emotion without uttering a single word; Unravel is one of those games. Yarny’s subtle animations as well as the picture-perfect environments tell a tale, and they do it well. Every area is stunningly detailed, and the colorful visuals simply jump off the screen. This is truly one gorgeous-looking game.

I wish the music was as impressive. The short loops leave much to be desired, and at times feel like perhaps just silence would have better suited the mood of the game.

Unravel is disappointing on several levels, simply because it rarely steps outside the box mechanically to deliver a fun or interesting experience. The narrative is what drives the game, and even some of that feels obtuse at times. I wanted to love Yarny and his adventures, but the game wrapped around it is simply mediocre in design to the point that as brief as the journey was, I simply wasn’t having fun pushing through it, which is sad because Yarny appears to have more heart than most bigger-budget games.

Review copy of game provided by publisher.

Good

  • Visually stunning
  • Emotionally charged

Bad

  • Puzzles are repetitive
  • Needless backtracking
  • Game play feels tacked on at times
6

Decent

Ken McKown
Ken is the Editor-in-Chief of this hole in the wall and he loves to troll for the fun of it. He also enjoys long walks through Arkham Asylum and the cool air of Shadow Moses Island. His turn-ons include Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid and StarCraft.
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