My feelings on Unravel went a little something like this:
Prior to release: Unravel looks amazing!
Start of the game: Unravel is terrible!
Middle of the game: Unravel is OK I guess.
End of the game: Unravel is great!
Unravel is a little indie puzzle platformer to come out of Coldwood studios, a small Swedish dev team, and is a far cry from the usual blockbuster games to come out of EA in recent years. Much like those little art games that have come out of Ubisoft lately - I'm talking Grow Home, Valiant Hearts, Child of Light - Unravel is a stab at something different from the mega-publisher.
Unravel is a game that only gets better the more you play. For a platformer, the mechanics invovled weren't insanely deep - but that's OK. This isn't Super Mario Bros; it doesn't need to be. Unravel kind of throws most of the ideas it has at you early on then doesn’t change up the use of those much throughout the rest of the game. The later challenge comes from hunting down the secrets in each level or, more specifically, making use of your red thread to reach places you weren’t sure you could.
I've seen a lot of ramblings online about how the story isn't very pronounced - for this kind of game, that is a good thing. There is an intriguing back story here surrounding the character Yarny and the family he is involved with, but this is unnecessary to enjoy the game. It's the very themes the game explores that are important, not that overarching narrative - this enables you to project your own life onto the game a lot easier, connecting with Yarny and it's trials. A lot of games in recent years have stooped to spoon feeding you the narrative it's trying to present - Unravel gives it to you, sure, but only if you want to find and think about it yourself.
I do think this is a game where the experience is enriched the more you look into it prior to playing. Having watched the E3 presentation of Unravel multiple times and seeing Martin Salin, creative director for the game, on stage during PAX Aus last year helped me come at the game from a specific perspective that you might not otherwise get if you come in blind.
The platforming can be a bit finicky, but the game makes up for that with awesome feeling swinging mechanic that thankfully is used quite a lot through each of the levels. Pulling off those swinging leaps often made my heart skip a beat.
The game looks unreal - almost to a point of being a detriment to the gameplay. Having the scenes look so realistic made it difficult at times to tell where I was meant to be going. In some section laid out with tree branches, for example, there were a few that I thought were platforms to land on that were simply there for decoration - sending me swinging off into my doom on more than one occasion.
Without spoiling anything, I do want to say this: the final level of this game is fantastic and is without a doubt the best part of the entire game, and is made even better by the arduous process of weaving your way through the game’s levels. A lot of games tend to not stick the landing very well these days, as developers know that the vast majority of people who play their games never even come close to seeing it - in this particular case, Unravel ties everything together in a fantastic fashion.
Is Unravel a game I would recommend? Ultimately, yes. While it won’t hit very many GOTY lists, this game fits well in that cheaper indie space that is only growing bigger as time goes on. With a beautiful art style, a worthwhile story and some cool ideas, this game is worth pushing through those few first levels to get to the great game that lies beyond.