There’s something special about Unravel, and I think it has everything to do with the knitted red, somewhat humanoid character you spend the game playing as. He’s undeniably adorable, but you knew that. He likely wormed his way in to your heart the very first time you saw him.

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There’s more to him though, and it comes down to the wide range of emotions that he’s capable of not just displaying, but of creating. Without much in the way of visage, and without a single uttered word, the little red guy is surprisingly, jarringly life-like; a woollen wonder that the four-year old somewhere in my psyche wants to grab through the TV screen and cling to. He’s able to express himself through his animation, and the way he reacts to the stunningly created, aesthetically beautiful world he inhabits.

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The way he moves and the way he feels is delightfully, uncannily authentic. Watching him joyfully skip through a verdant, Scandinavian field, butterflies fluttering about while insects crawl along the grass beside him is joyful, and it’s the environments here that act as the second great big drawcard.

The hazy, soft focus backgrounds bring the levels to life; its sunlit fields, rocky roads and cold, windy and even snow-capped mountains exude an atmosphere and charm to rival Yarny himself. It looks like a sort of hyper-reality, a better looking, and more welcoming version of the world we live in.

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The game’s music elevates this even more, an orchestra of distinctly Scandinavian sounds that crescendo and crash, the plunge in to a lull complementing the on-screen action. The music, wordless as the rest of the game, is emotionally charged, which together with the game’s aesthetic and Yarny’s demeanour tugged at my nostalgia and sentimentality. It’s the kind of game that invokes a sort of quiet, introspective contemplation, and reminded me very much of thatgamecompany’s Flower in that regard. It even follows a similar path; overwhelming joyousness that becomes darker and more ominous as it goes.

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There’s a story here, a very personal one that’s wrapped up in saccharine sentimentality. It starts off showing us an old woman, a ball of red wool dropping from her basket. That ball, is of course, Yarny – and he hops about in and out of her photographs – re-invoking memories. It tells a sentimental and obvious story, but it’s one that’s personal. It is, however, not my story – so I had very little interest in paging through the photographs that become unlocked. Having not grown up in Northern Sweden, there’s no real sentimental attachment here for me, making the thin narrative little more than window dressing.

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I also just wish the game itself was better. Unravel is a puzzle platformer, and thought it shares much of its DNA with platforming staples like Super Mario, there’s more to it than just moving left and right and jumping. Yarny can use bits of himself as a lasso, able to grab on to bits of the environment to climb on to higher ledges, or swing about. He can tie knots ate specified points, using the taut yarn between them as a bridge, or even as a makeshift trampoline. Because he’s using his own wool to do all of this and that fact that he’s perpetually tethered , he’ll unspool as he goes along, meaning he’ll eventually run out of himself, unable to continue. You’ll have to find spools of wool (which act as checkpoints), inexplicably littered every to replenish his textile reserves.

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It’s functional, but it all feels very single-noted. The puzzle themselves are never head-scratchers, employing instead the same basic ideas until they grow tiresome. The platforming isn’t – for the most part – especially challenging or interesting either, becoming rote by the game’s end. It does, sometimes, veer in to being frustrating. Every now and then (especially within the last 3 or four memories) you’ll encounter a section that requires what seems like unnecessarily fast reaction times, and other that operate almost entirely through trial and error. As beautiful as it all is, there’s a point where it just stops being fun. That said, it costs R200 and is very much worth playing.

Last Updated: February 11, 2016

As a metaphor for the ties that bind a family together, Yarny and Unravel are exceptional; beautiful, and invoking a quiet contemplation, It's just hard not to wish it was a better game.
Unravel was reviewed on Xbox One
75 / 100

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