Pretty much from the moment that Coldwood Interactive's creative director, Martin Sahlin, took to the stage during EA's E3 2015 press conference, we had a good feeling about Unravel. Sure, Sahlin was very visibly nervous, but it was in an endearing way, and if anything, made our early impressions of the game even more positive. And that's not even mentioning the fact that Sahlin had his very own Yarny – the character that you control in the game – with him while presenting. Several months on from that, the title has finally released, and we get to see if the Swedish outfit has delivered on what it originally shared with us all.
Unsurprisingly, you assume the role of Yarny, an adorable anthropomorphic character comprised of yarn. It's your job to navigate the absolutely incredible looking photo realistic environments and recover a series of yarn patches for the cover of a Scrapbook. In essence, the game is the latest in the frankly over-saturated puzzle platformer market, but luckily, the title absolutely deserves attention nonetheless.
The puzzle mechanics stem from the fact that Yarny is still attached to an initial spool of yarn some distance away. This means that there is a finite amount of movement that you get. That is, until you get to the next little collection of yarn, thereby extending the distance that can be travelled. These additional bundles of Yarn also cleverly double as the game's checkpoint system.
These checkpoints are littered across the beautifully varied environments. The game starts with more natural locations – like forests or parks – as Yarny navigates through pine bush, berried leaves, and the like. As the game progresses, the environments start getting more industrial and menacing, as the weather grows more dangerous, too. Much of the end of the game takes place in the snow or rain. This isn't a bad thing, though, as the levels look just as incredible, if not more so, when they get soaked by the rain drops.
It also helps that the game is legitimately able to offer the occasional challenge amid such stunning scenery. One of the major problems that contemporary puzzle platformers face is that, while pleasant enough experiences, they don't offer enough of a challenge to warrant sticking with them. Luckily, Unravel has genuinely interesting puzzle mechanics, which keeps things engaging. Yarny's excess yarn can be used to create platforms to pull objects along, or swing from tree branch to tree branch. The biggest problem with this though is that these systems are introduced very early in the game. And while many games introduce more and more challenges as you progress, Unravel seems content with just making some of the jumps harder to pull off. This makes the difficulty curve... Well, less of a curve and more of a sharp spike early on, before levelling off.
Granted, the title is still fun in spite of the difficulty curve issues, and the systems that are introduced still feel clever and fun to pull off through the game's three or four hour runtime. The end result is that it feels like more could have been done with these systems, though, as there's very clearly room for further experimentation. And not only would that have led to a more varied game, but it also would have alleviated some of the frustrations that set in later on. Indeed, some of the platforming sections come off as finicky and clunky, and these problems really stick out in the last few levels.
Still, this is a pleasant game, and that extends beyond the art direction itself. The developer does a surprisingly good job of ensuring that you forge a connection with its character, and Yarny's emotions and mannerisms will have a profound effect on you as a result. One instance in particular that stands out is the first time that it starts raining, and the woolly hero appears intrigued by it all; by the end, however, he's shivering, sodden, and clearly in discomfort. It's a sign of Coldwood's craftsmanship that in that moment the only thing that we could think about was how to get Yarny out of the rain and into some shelter.
The soundtrack is also a peaceful, charming delight for much of the game. There are a couple levels where the music would not sound out of place on Dark Side of the Moon, and the menacing feeling of those levels is a particular highlight. But for the most part, the music is peaceful. The only exception to this is when the looped tracks noticeably segue from one to the other. One of the dangers of using dynamically shifting scores is that sometimes the transitions from track to track do not go smoothly. That's the case here, as on several occasions we encountered some very jarring audio transitions.
This generation has seen a glut of puzzle platformers grace the PlayStation 4, but fortunately for those interested, Unravel is absolutely one that deserves attention. While it feels like more could have been done with its mechanics, the game's charming and has a great lead character. It's also sublimely presented. It's not quite the epic yarn that we were anticipating, then – but Coldwood's meticulous needlework makes it worth a look at least.