Unravel Hands-On Impressions: Unwinding on a Wilderness Walk

Shacknews plays Unravel and gets all tangled up with Yarny.

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One of the more surprising debuts from this year's E3 was a little independently developed side scrolling platforming game called Unravel. Inspired by a vacation trip, players take the role of a small vaguely humanlike creature that is completely made from yarn. It represents the connection an aging grandmother has to her family.

The red yarn character, Yarny, has a constant tether to the house as it moves out into the world, where trees and raised gardens seem like insurmountable obstacles. Yarny grows progressively thinner as he continues on, but can gather himself back up and replenish altogether at certain checkpoints. In the meantime, he can use the strand pulled from himself for various purposes, like a lasso and swinging vine. Yarny can also tie ends to two nearby points to create a trampoline.

It takes some creative thinking to get Yarny through the wilderness that filled with beautiful, almost photorealistic, backgrounds. At one point, Yarny had to make his way across a hole by filling it up with water, then pushing a couple apples into it so that they'd float and make a fruit bridge.

But at the same time, there's a strange feeling of disconnect between Yarny and the world. Given the Yarny is a two-inch figure made from metal and yarn, it was difficult for me to mentally grasp his limitations. How does Yarny suffer falling damage and die? Can Yarny float across water? The answer to that is no. Yarny can't even swim, but he can hang on to a small kite and float across a long distance. The rules surrounding a yarn creature aren't completely clear.

Although the game features excellent artwork, it's not all that great on direction. It's not always clear when players should move upwards or continue going right on their current path. There's one particularly complex sequence where Yarny needs to push a soda can over to climb up a ledge, leap from a fence onto a telescope, then onto a bench, then climb up a tree. All the while, players need to keep in mind how much yarn they're using up. It's not always that these puzzles are difficult to figure out, but it's not always obvious where you can attach your yarn, or know when you can climb a bit of fencing instead of futilely trying to lasso a point that's just out of reach.

The puzzles in the demo I played ramped up in difficulty very quickly, and I soon found myself in a situation where I couldn't even tell where to begin or end. However, the game is still in its early stages of development, so there's plenty of time for the developers to balance out some of the gameplay. In any case, Unravel is a wildly imaginative and original game that has an excellent soundtrack and tells a heartfelt story that stands to resonate with a lot of people.

Unravel is expected to release in the early half of 2016 for PS4, Xbox One and PC.

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