E3 2015 – Unravel: spinning that yarn

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EA had a pretty soulless press conference this year, with one notable exception. Unravel tells the story of Yarny, and when the developers showed off this adorable platformer, they instantly landed into my heart. I had to check out the game, and luckily I got some hands on time with Unravel to get a better sense of it all.

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The story of the game is that there’s a lonely old woman and the family she lost touch with. The yarn represents the bond between people and Yarny must journey through the environment, seeing old memories. It’s an emotional story, made even more so by the adorable Yarny character – a yarn cat with eyes that can droop and become so sad it is simply far too adorable.

The gameplay and design is incredibly cool. The game designer came up with the concept while on holiday in the countryside of northern Scandinavia. His game pitch is done almost entirely with yarn puppet and outdoor imagery, which is why the developers decided to keep nature as a core part of the game. Each environment is based on a place near their studio and the outdoor look and even seasons play a part in the game.

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At the start of each level, Yarny is attached to something. As he moves forward, he unravels; players need to access more yarn to help him move further in the level. Of course, it’s not just about jumping or doing classic platforming. Thanks to being connected with yarn, players can make use of the yarn to create counter weights, sling shots or trampolines, and even bridges. Yarny also has a lasso to use. Plus, thanks to always being connected to the most recent point, players can’t really ever get stuck – they can always just backtrack along the yarn.

The game starts off fairly simply, letting players learn the art of swinging from the lasso or tying to a point to create a bridge. Interestingly, there is only enough yarn for each distance players need to traverse. There isn’t enough for an extra tie on to an anchor point or other safety measures that new players might try. It’s an interesting way to push players to take more risks. Plus, knowing that Yarny can’t really fail thanks to always being connected is a nice safety net.

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In some ways, Unravel reminds me of Ori. Oh, they’re very different, but they both star a strange cat-like creature who is incredibly touching emotionally within a gorgeous game that belies the actual platforming difficulty. At the end of the tutorial, there was a puzzle that no longer had any guidance as players need to figure out how to cross a water-filled section. It’s so well done as players figure out how to piece it all together; I like that there isn’t a hint functionality and it isn’t all spoon fed to the player. Instead, experimentation is key until you can figure it out.

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A later level features a much more rainy and depressing environment, one where I was genuinely worried about Yarny, determined to get him to a safe, warm, dry place. It’s strange how quickly the bond was formed; I only got to play for about 10-15 minutes and already I felt like I wanted to protect Yarny while still guiding him through his adventure.

I never knew creating yarn bridges or trampolines could be so intriguing. It’s more than just a pretty game with a cute protagonist – Unravel has some serious soul in its storytelling and its sweet approach to gameplay makes the tricky puzzle platforming required that much more compelling.

Last Updated: June 18, 2015

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. You can read more of my words over at www.borngeek.co.za, or just follow me on all the social networks to get the true range of my sarcasm and wit.

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