While it may remind you of Nintendo’s yarn-based games and peripherals like Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Yoshi’s Wooly World, or the Nintendo Knitting Machine (look it up), Swedish studio Coldwood Interactive’s Unravel is quite the original game. With fun and inventive gameplay, an incredibly adorable main character, and the suddenly huge world outside your door, Unravel is a game where your goal is to rekindle cherished memories, and the worst thing that can happen to you is running out of yarn.
Unravel begins with a wistful-looking woman of a grandmotherly age staring out the window. She picks up her knitting and goes upstairs as a lone ball of red yarn falls out, and from it emerges Yarny, our protagonist made out of red yarn. Yarny is tiny compared to her surroundings, but she can move and explore immediately. The first thing you’ll notice while controlling Yarny is the fact that she leaves a trail of red yarn behind her, in essence unravelling herself as she moves forward.
Unravel is a platformer with fairly simple controls that nevertheless has fiendishly harder and harder puzzles to solve as it progresses. Yarny can do a few basic things with her yarn-body (let’s not think about how creeped out we are by the fact that Yarny is basically using pieces of herself to progress): she can lasso certain hook points and then pull herself up or swing from them to reach other platforms; she can tie herself to two points and make a yarn bridge to either move everyday objects on it, or bounce from it to a higher point; she can lower herself gently from a very high platform; and she can backtrack to an earlier point by pulling herself on her yarn to reach an earlier point to work that puzzle a different way, or simply try that jump again.
Yarny will eventually run out of the yarn that makes up her body, and you will be unable to progress further. Luckily, you can find small balls of red yarn throughout every level that will replenish Yarny’s body so that she can continue forward and solve puzzles. It’s not enough to just solve a puzzle, though. You have to solve it in such a way that uses as little of Yarny’s body as possible because you’ll otherwise run out of yarn before you reach the next top-up, stranding Yarny in the middle of a hostile, yet beautiful world.
The Natural World
All of Unravel takes place outdoors, with the exception of the level select area and a few greenhouses or boathouses here and there, making for some truly beautiful environments. These range from a backyard, to a pier and beach, to a snowy clearing. The world she inhabits is every bit as realistic as Yarny is cartoony, and this includes the objects she occasionally has to interact with to progress. These objects include apples, tin cans, see-saws, tricycles, and kites, all needing to be interacted with in order to solve puzzles.
Don’t let its beauty fool you, however. There are many dangers in the world that Yarny needs to watch out for, including waves that can drown her, crabs that can cut her and dash her against the rocks, and large drops that can kill her instantly. You need not worry about this too much, however, as Yarny will be instantly transported back to the last place she received a yarn replenishment so you can try as many times as you need to not die while trying to solve the puzzle (as I did in one particularly tricky area in which poor Yarny was destroyed by crabs over and over again).
The human characters can get a little uncanny valley-ish (especially the grandmother at the beginning), but there aren’t too many of those so you can just focus on the lush environments.
You know you’ve reached the end of a particular level when you find a small, knitted object that the grandmother left behind. Besides this endpoint, there are five secrets to find in each level, some of which are hidden fiendishly well. All of these objects and secrets come together to tell snippets of this woman’s family history, and why she is alone now.
Very little of this is told with words, however. You just kind of have to guess at it, at least until you find your first knitted object and read the corresponding short journal entry. Most of the game’s storytelling and atmosphere is provided by the amazing soundtrack, composed by Swedish musicians Henrik Oja and Frida Johansson. It is a beautiful, haunting score that follows Yarny and her forays to the outside world. As the levels get bleaker and colder, the score follows along, making you feel even bleaker and colder than Yarny does.