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Unravel Preview: Can a Platformer Make you Cry

by Kyle Hanson

Unravel-Yarny

Unravel has always been something of an oddity. Premiering at E3 2015 on the EA press conference stage, the little indie platformer seemed to stand out in stark contrast among the sports games and appearances by Hoop Gawd and others. Yet for many it was the best moment of the conference, revealing a game with heart and soul that was trying to tell a compelling story, and present a unique new character to the world.

Yarny is the little red ball of yarn that is the center of the Unravel experience. From his first introduction it seemed like he was set for video gaming stardom, with all of his little, handmade quirks making him both endearing and cute. After finally getting to try out the game this week, it’s easy to see that those initial impression were true, of both Yarny and the game he stars in.

Unravel isn’t pushing too many boundaries in the gameplay department. A 2D puzzle-platformer, the game is gleefully simplistic in many ways. And yet, it hides a depth that is only discovered as you progress through the game. I’ve only had a chance to touch on the first couple of levels, just getting a small taste of the experience held within, but already Unravel is showing that it is more than just a cute platformer.

This is Unravel

Yarny’s signature trailing yarn actually acts as a gameplay feature, not only allowing you to swing across gaps, but also acting as a lifeline to previous explored territory. You can climb your own yarn trail if need be, which actually opens up puzzle elements such as trailing the yarn across higher ledges, or making sure it isn’t caught on objects so that you can move further ahead.

You’ll need to do this because at certain points Yarny will actually run out of yarn. He needs to make it to the next ball of yarn in order to keep proceeding forward, which then acts as sort of a checkpoint for the game, tying off your yarn trail as an anchor point for later.

You can also manually tie your yarn at certain points, which can be used to create bridges or trampolines that can propel Yarny much higher than normal. These combine with rope swings to form the basis of the platforming gameplay found in Unravel’s first couple of levels. On top of this is layered a fairly intricate physics system, that has Yarny pushing and pulling objects to different spots, sometimes using his yarn as a pulley if needed. These objects can just be new platforms to stand on, but often enough they are used for their weight, or other physical properties.

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The gameplay certainly works well and is engaging enough, but most players will likely come to Unravel for its story and emotional properties. Yarny isn’t just out on an adventure, he’s actually got a purpose, which is to piece together the memories of an old woman whose house he came to life in. As you trek through the levels you spot different items from her past, and put together events from her life, filling out a scrapbook as you complete sections of the game.

Speaking with the developer, Coldwood’s creative director Martin Sahlin, during a Q&A session, it seemed that the story in Unravel is an extraordinarily personal one, sharing moments and places from the developer’s life. In fact, the story of Unravel came before the gameplay was pieced together, which can usually end up going poorly, but seems to works exceedingly well here.

Story is present in Unravel, but it isn’t in your face. In fact, Sahlin explained that due to some of the darker and more depressing or sad moments of the story, players will have to seek it out, rather than the game forcing it upon them. “It’s not about pushing the ‘feels button'” exclaimed Sahlin at one point.

Yarny-Inspiration-Unravel

The story, like the game itself, will feature both light and dark elements, with Sahlin saying that they compliment each other and allow the player to better appreciate each. Darker story beats will accompany darker levels, such as an abandoned mine, or other manmade structures that break the more nature oriented vibe we’ve seen in trailers.

There’s still a lot to explore and find in Unravel, but what we’ve seen so far has been impressive. The game certainly came as a shock to the gaming public, and the developers seem to have taken that surprise and run with it. Expect a full review and more before Unravel launches on February 9th for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

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