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Review - "Unravel"

Is a game best known for its awkward E3 presentation worth getting wrapped up in? Or is it just another puzzle-platformer in a market full of them?

Developer: Coldwood Interactive
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One (reviewed,) PC
Rated: E

Unravel follows Yarny, an anthropomorphic little yarn creature who falls out of a lonely old woman's knitting basket. Players guide him through a dozen unique worlds to gather various trinkets that hold some sort of significance to the old woman, and gradually restore her memories of a world that's seemingly left her behind.

The narrative is murky and mysterious, yet never really gets overbearingly dark. That's because, at its core, Unravel is a game about hope. Its touching story reminds players that even the smallest things can help the most downtrodden people feel some semblance of joy.

The idea of exploring a world to recover somebody's memories is pretty much old hat in gaming at this point, and yet I never felt like what Unravel was attempting to do was uninspired. It's very clear that a lot of love and care was put into crafting this small, emotional tale, and it's enough to forgive the somewhat derivative premise. A sincere yarn with a lot of personality, Yarny's tale is one  that's both cute and touching in equal amounts.

That feeling of good will carries on to the gameplay itself. When it was first revealed, I'll admit that I, frankly, was not  too enthused about Unravel. After the successes of Braid, Fez and Limbo, it feels like the hot new trend for a major indie release is to be a 2D puzzle platformer with a secretly emotional narrative. However, the sheer joy that one feels while playing Unravel was enough to make most of my bitter cynicism melt away. While the controls and platforming are pretty bog-standard, they still get the job done. And here, the job is for players to amble around large worlds, be astonished at the scale, and solve a series of puzzles.

The puzzles, however, are my chief complaint with Unravel. Quite honestly, one gets a bit tired of them after, say, three or four levels. That isn't to say that the puzzles are necessarily bad, per se, only that it becomes readily apparent that they're present to extend the length of the game and not much else. While some of the solutions and ideas behind them are original, those ideas get repeated early on in the game, and it doesn't really let up from there. Simply put, puzzles are present only to pad out gameplay length and to activate large set pieces. Which, granted, is generally how puzzles in games work, but when I can see through it so easily instead of getting lost in the game itself, it's a bit of a letdown.

That being said, the latter examples are definitely the more impressive, and it makes it easy to forgive some rudimentary puzzle-solving in order to do some of the cool things on display here. Whether it's revving a boat's motor, crashing a  tricycle through a gate, or steering a kite through a dense forest, the big set piece moments in Unravel are some of the best out there, and make it easy for one to forgive the occasional repeated puzzle.

A major factor in what makes these set pieces work is how astonishingly gorgeous this game is. For a title with little to no promotion since its reveal, Unravel is easily one of the prettiest games I've ever played. Its aesthetic is similar to that of Pikmin or Chibi Robo: a tiny creature gets lost in a practically photo-realistic copy of the real world. Only here, the word "practically" barely applies, as
the game depicts rippling waves, swaying branches, dew-covered plants and murky marshes with loving, painstaking detail. So much so, in fact, that one often feels that they're guiding a tiny computer-generated creature through high-definition footage of real wilderness.

On top of just being downright pretty, however, Unravel impresses most with its sense of scale. Puddles become ponds, moose become monsters, and everything we take for granted becomes a large
scale obstacle for Yarny to find new ways to circumnavigate. With all of the games on the market about being a tiny thing navigating a bunch of large things, I have to concede that Unravel does it

And it's because of this that Unravel is a must-play in my book. Despite a healthy amount of puzzles that run together, the touching narrative, lush landscapes and astonishing visuals make for a memorable platformer in a world filled to the brim with them. Yarny is an endearing protagonist, and the world he (or she, or it) inhabits is one that I won't soon forget

- An emotional and sincere story.
- Sense of scale is truly breathtaking.
- Visually astonishing.
- A lot of a content for twenty bucks.

- Repetitive puzzles.
- Hidden collectibles serve no real purpose.


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