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Electronic Arts held a Q&A with Unravel‘s creative director, Martin Sahlin. Developed by Swedish indie studio, Coldwood Interactive, in a small but dedicated team of thirteen, the game is sefl-described a “unique physics-based puzzle platformer where players will control the adorable Yarny.” The setting is mostly nature-based; the story is centered on love and loss. Does this mean it’s all sunshine and heartbreak? Yes and no.
“The game does get dark,” Sahlin explained, “which makes the happy and bright spots standout. Plus, the one [level] that is gonna surprise people the most is the abandoned mine, one of the darker, scarier places. It’s important that there is some dark there, that it’s just not about the sweet and cute.”
Based on my first few hours of playing Unravel, I don’t think he has to worry about the game feeling too cute. The opening shows an older woman in a home filled with memories looking for someone, but who is lost in her own thoughts. Eventually, players take control of Yarny, a red, lanky creature made of a ball of yarn that has fallen from her knitting basket as she trots upstairs presumably to take a nap.
This house seems to be the central hub as each level is entered by activating any number of old framed photographs located throughout. The first one is a silhouette of a family sitting on a bench, their backs to the player. Once toggled, the family disappears with the woman remaining. Remember the rows of photos at the end of Rose’s journey in Titanic? It's sort of like that, but the images seem to be contemplative moments in time than outright happy memories. Meanwhile, in the background, the musical score by Henrik Oja and Frida Johansson begins to swell, sounding very much like a Swedish folk song. Cue the waterworks.
The level I explored, titled “Thistle & Weeds”, appears to begin in the backyard of a home in the country. Trees are huge compared to Yarny, and blades of grass sometimes obscure his view. As Yarny travels from left to right he leaves behind a trail of red yarn. Eventually though, he can get too skinny as the yarn runs out so it’s important to be on the lookout for extra spools. His (or her?) main abilities are being able to tie yarn to specific objects, and using the yarn to swing or climb. He can also push certain object forward like turned over plant holders.
Visually, the environments are gorgeous. There’s a warm sunset vibe to this level, making apples and even an old tricycle, feel more authentic. An early puzzle involves Yarny pulling down a waterspout to get across a deep hole, à la Limbo. Like the boy in that classic black and white quest, Yarny is no fan of water and drowns if submerged. Also like Limbo, each area is self-contained even though it’s presented as a continuous world. This is good since you can pretty much guarantee that anytime Yarny is stuck. the solution is only a few inches from the left or right.
What’s not so good is that Unravel favors a really loose control scheme. It makes sense since Yarny is a soft, bumble of string, butI would often tie Yarny to a post only to have it unravel a few seconds later. The reason is because if you hit the ‘X’ button (I am playing on Xbox One) too much of it untoggles the work you’ve done. In one instance, I was tasked with tying string to two posts to make a trampoline, but each time I would have one secure, I would unconsciously hold the button down and as I made my way to tie another, the previous post one would, um… unravel. I’m all for solid puzzles, and for Yarny having a unique feel, but not at the expense of accuracy.
I’ll have my full review of this gorgeous and, I hope, emotion-filled adventure next week. Unravel releases on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on February 9, 2016.