Unravel Review – A Not So Epic Yarn

It’s got the look of a big-deal indie game, but it’s all style and zero substance.

01

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

Unravel is adorable, that much was almost universally agreed upon the moment the world first saw Yarny, its feline wool protagonist. A gorgeous game with a cute hero and a stunning soundtrack, Unravel has production value in spades and benefits from one hell of a unique presentation.

Unfortunately, that’s about all it has going for it, because outside of its saccharine appeal, Unravel is about as pedestrian a puzzle-platformer as you could hope to find.

Yarny’s adventure suffers from following in the footsteps of better produced and more inventive games, games it shamelessly pilfers for ideas while delivering little of significance outside of its aesthetic.

Most challenges involve pushing objects from point A to point B in order to reach high ledges, occasionally tying yarn between two points in order to create ramps – basement-level busywork that does nothing to stimulate the brain.

When you’re not doing that, you’ll use Yarny’s threaded appendages to lasso and swing from grapple points, create makeshift trampolines, and run away from rocky landsides. Basically, you’ll do things you’ve done in dozens of puzzle platformers over the years.

Worse, you’ll put up with terrible physics along the way, and a protagonist with jumps so wonky you’d swear their surname was Belmont.

The weightless nature of objects and characters, coupled with wild and unwieldy swinging mechanics, makes Unravel feel almost exactly like Littlebigplanet, along with the same simplistic “push/pull” non-puzzles found in that series’ most basic example levels.

It’s not uncommon to get objects stuck in the ground, as Yarny struggles to pull a crucial rock into position because it caught on something. Even the heaviest looking objects have no sense of gravity. Yarny itself struggles with recognizing ledges, sometimes missing jumps they’re clearly supposed to make.

02

Choosing style over functionality, Unravel features richly detailed environments alongside terrific animations, but terrible visual feedback and poor communication with the player.

There are moments where interactive objects are indistinguishable from static walls and subsequently obscured. Ledges you can grip and platforms that are just part of the background decoration all look the same, with trial-and-error being the only way to tell the difference. Climbable walls are marked only by a faint glimmer, almost impossible to make out in certain areas.

Unravel is so concerned with looking pretty, it fails to provide its player adequate tools for progress.

Compare this to Limbo, a game Unravel shamelessly mimics in more than a few ways. With its monochrome color scheme and gradual drip-feed of mechanics, Limbo is excellent at informing players without so much as uttering a single word. The boldly contrasting color scheme makes objects distinct, and players learn to implement new ideas as they go.

None of this is true with Coldwood Interactive’s effort.

Unravel is a gorgeous mess as everything blends into each other, while a terrible tutorial opens the game. It inelegantly dumps a wad of text on players and even goes so far as to detail mechanics that won’t show up until far later in the game, by which time they’ll have likely been forgotten.

What we’re looking at here is a poor mimicking of two superior productions – it’s LittleBigPlanet without the user-generated content, and Limbo without the well designed levels or puzzles.

Unravel straddles a frustrated line between these two games, bringing nothing but a suite of intellectually lazy and repetitive puzzles, a character that feels unpleasant to control, and some challenges that reek of “guess what the developer was thinking” rather than well-communicated objectives.

03

Coldwood made one of those ironic games that get more enjoyable the less like a game they resemble. There are fun moments to be had, but they’re all too fleeting and have nothing to do with puzzle-platforming.

Subtle sequences that feature Yarny walking through the world, confused and mesmerized by their colorful surroundings, are heartwarming. All-too brief segments where one is steering a kite, lassoing a fish to ride across a pond, or hanging from a floating carrier bag are breathtaking.

These little moments are where Unravel appears to have the most fun with itself, and the comparatively banal puzzles come off like token gestures toward gameplay – a case of Unravel putting in the bare minimum to be considered a game so it can concentrate on its audiovisual impressiveness.

Indeed, the looks and the sounds are truly captivating, but scratch all that away and there’s just no substance to be found. Nothing but a mediocre offering caught desperately aping infinitely better examples of its genre. Its mawkish narrative, communicated via photographs and other imagery, might be enough to charm some folks, but it does little to inject actual life into the game.

The only original idea Unravel has going for it is Yarny’s stringy limitations. Yarny survives from wad of yarn to wad of yarn, requiring frequent checkpoints to rebuild itself after trailing a length of string everywhere it goes. A handful of puzzles require players to be mindful of this – choosing optimal routes to the next checkpoint to save on yarn and not get caught on a tight leash.

There was a lot of scope for this idea, and it could have made for an outstanding and clever experience. Unfortunately, I mean it when I say it’s a handful of puzzles, relegating what could have been the entire basis for a clever game to mere gimmick territory.

04

Unravel, quite frankly, comes off as too amateurish to capitalize on its own potential. The ridiculous tutorial, unpredictable physics, and obfuscating visual design are rookie mistakes, while the primitive puzzles that make up the majority of obstacles could be thrown together by any hobbyist game designer dicking around with basic tools.

Cloying adorability is Unravel‘s saving grace. Propped up on a crutch constructed from mawkish sentimentality, it gets away with a fair few missteps and manages to claw together a smattering of memorable moments.

This pretty shell, however, is undeniably a shell, and no amount of pretty little animations can make up for a total drought of engaging game design.

4/10
Subpar

Martina Veselá
Guest
Martina Veselá

Shame, I was quite looking forward to this. Oh well, if it’s bad then it’s bound to be free on PS+ at some point. I’ll grab it then.

Spiderman Three
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Spiderman Three

Cool review Jean!

TΛPETRVE
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TΛPETRVE

Funny, it’s not even like Jim’s opinion is in any way unique. Almost every outlet that isn’t busy drooling over the presentation has given it at least a lukewarm response, if not outright laughed it out of court.

MrInsecure
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MrInsecure

This makes me sad, because both the character and the developer were goddamn adorable at E3. Oh well, back to the knitting needles, I suppose.

Daniel
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Daniel

Jim Sterling.. You’re a COCK SUCKING BITCH… This game fuckin rocks. Go buy it people. Don’t listen to this cum basket

Mr Waffle
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Mr Waffle

Damn… I’ll wait for it on PS Plus I guess.

Kristus
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**I wrote this comment in response to a person who objected to the review because he didn’t agree with it. While I was typing however, the comment was removed. It’s a common occurrence and I feel that my point is valid for many people regardless of games. So I am posting it anyway. I’ve not played the game, and never heard of it before this review. From seeing the shots it certainly looks like a very good looking game. But what I took away from this review, was not so much that it was a game burdened by not being… Read more »

Katharina Maple
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Katharina Maple

I wouldn’t take this review very seriously. Jim has awful taste when it comes to a lot of games. Fallout 4 is great according to him and in general he doesn’t seem to like a lot of charming smaller games. I would definitely read other reviews by people who actually enjoy the genre of games Unravel falls under.

Also, many of the negatives Jim lists could be seen as positives depending on what kind of game you are looking for. Just don’t see this review as the end all be all.

Shiggins
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Shiggins

I would have loved to see Jim review the new Digimon game that came out in Western countries.

IcarusLives
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IcarusLives

This review is a bit ridiculous. I’ve been reading your stuff since early Dtoid and while I think you’re generally on point, this is definitely an exception. Unravel may not revolutionize puzzle platforming, but it is definitely a charming and enjoyable platformer with some great music and wonderful aesthetic. It’s quirky and full of heart, whether or not it does anything truly innovative. (Which I think is amusing considering how you forgive such tepid pieces of garbage like Dynasty Warriors, which are the amalgamation of everything bad in this industry that you so vehemently fight for in the Jimquisition videos).… Read more »

TimRobbins
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TimRobbins

Thought I might need to install Origin there for a second. Maybe if another origin humble rolls around. Can’t be arsed to deal with another mediocre PC platform limited to a mediocre publisher who makes mediocre games.

SilentPony
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SilentPony

Oh man, are you saying Unravel has unraveled?!

Susy Q
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Susy Q

Awww I was planning on getting this to feel the FEELZ but I guess i’ll just watch the let’s play of it.

Sylocat
Guest

I wonder if they could put in a level editor. I’d be interested to see if the players could do any better at designing puzzles for this thing.

Astralfury
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Astralfury

Jim, so in short would you say it’s…Frayed around the edges?

Michael Treiger
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Michael Treiger

Will there be a review of The Witness? anyway this flew totally under my radar as i’m currently detoxing from puzzle games after finishing The Witness

Chip Self
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Chip Self

I was excited to play this…until I found it was Origin exclusive on PC, and I read the myriad of mixed reviews.

Shame, really.

Dooid
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Dooid

Poor Yarney 😢 Can’t say I agree but I see where you’re coming from, it’s puzzle elements are certainly it’s weakest link. However, I think the general aesthetic, varied levels and Yarney charm pulls you through the 5 hours gameplay. I thought it was good value for €20

Aiwass
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Aiwass

It’s a shame. I loved the guy who presented it. He was just adorable. The character, too. It’s just that these 2D puzzle platformers are so overdone and boring. Unravel really needed to do something spectacular to stand out and it doesn’t seem like it has.

Maybe I’m just incredibly fucking sick of the shitty 2D platformers Playstation Plus has given since I subscribed.

Daavpuke
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Unravel is a pure effort in marketing that actually otherwise is a bland platformer with no real value? Who could’ve told you that, except for me, like the second it was announced? Seriously, almost every press bit was about either how lovable Yarny is supposed to be, trotting them around the world, or how quirky the designer with their hand-tattoo is. Because they’re not like normal devs; this one’s got a tattoo on their hand. Rarely did the game actually show anything beyond the simple line throwing/connecting. Likely because it just wasn’t there. I have no idea how just some… Read more »

LazyGamer
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LazyGamer

4/10? You monster. http://i.imgur.com/yNMBsa2.jpg

It’s one of the best games EA has funded this year. The graphics, gameplay and soundtrack are wonderfully done.

Only fault I have is some of the puzzles are really tough, I had to look on youtube to get them done. But maybe that was just me.

I rate is a solid 7/10.

Leon the Brave
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Leon the Brave

So is everyone still playing LittleBigPlanet?

Mika Rose
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Mika Rose

“Worse, you’ll put up with terrible physics along the way, and a protagonist with jumps so wonky you’d swear their surname was Belmont.” Ok, I laughed A LOT at that. I’m so disappointed!! I was really excited to see your Unravel review, and it’s unfortunate that it did not live up to the hype of a puzzle platformer with a touching story we all wanted. I’ve been following the twitter account since E3 and it’s been heavily promoted in the last weeks. I will still play the game myself, but do take your personal opinion and review into high regard,… Read more »

Coalton Ross
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Coalton Ross

So it’s basically this year’s equivalent of Yoshi’s Woolly World?

vonSanneck
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vonSanneck

Seems like an aesthetics first kind of game development gone wrong…

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