Friday, 7 April 2017

Swedish yarnballs


Platform tested: Xbox One

There have been many 2D platformers in my gaming life through the years. I've grown up on sprite drawn ones and experienced the genre going full 3D, then years later going back to 2D gameplay but retaining the 3D graphics. New Super Mario Bros. leading the way as one of the strongest contenders 2D platformers with 3D graphics. Unravel is one of these too, but perhaps has it's foot set more in the physics based gameplay, much like Little Big Planet, rather than being the old school style like NSMB and the latest Rayman games.

Made and set in a beautiful rural Sweden, Unravel hits home for me on a visual level with such impact, I could literally feel the atmosphere and nostalgia build up inside. I've grown up in Norway and the countryside is very much alike Sweden's featured in Unravel. Beautifully detailed nature locations are blurred into a beautiful backdrop for each level. Unravel follows a little woollen figure, named Yarny, on his travels through gardens, woodlands, seasides and snow covered mountains in search of a little knitted figure at each level end. Levels have increasingly complex with climbing puzzles to solve to progress, but they are never too hard to figure out and evolve around the way Yarny strings his woollen lasso to reach places.

The game is set in a country cottage on a farm, working as a central hub. From here you your journey begins beside an empty photo album on a dinner table. Each level is found throughout the cottage, in form of a picture. Entering one and completing the level gives you access to enter the next and so forth. Each completed level ends with Yarny finding a woollen figure to put on the cover of the photo album, thus resulting in a story page and photos added of the location the level was set in. It's a touching and sweet storyline with a lot of visual atmosphere and is perhaps even more so if you are familiar with the Scandinavian nature and countryside. The pictures could almost come from my own childhood photo album.

Gameplay is fairly straightforward and simplistic. Yarny walks left to right and can throw out a lasso of string to attach to ledges, branches etc. and climb or pull himself up to it. Knotting a string in two places near each other makes the string a trampoline, letting Yarny reach new places higher up. To progress you need to find more string, as Yarny runs out of it and gets stuck. However this string length mechanic was too scripted in my book, with no clear definition of how much string each yarnball gave you. Sometimes you would walk for ages, other times it stopped suddenly after a short stroll simply because you used and extra few knots climbing onto something you didn't need to. I rarely ran out of string though, so it was never really an issue. Otherwise the gameplay rules were fairly straightforward and easy to get to grips with.

Some issues I'd like to address though. The controls are slightly floaty, think Little Big Planet, with physics based platforming resulting in some annoying misses when precise jumping or timing is required. I still found the game fun to play as it never requires those extremely fast and precise skills from the more traditional and faster paced 2D platformers, but it's definitely a place the game could be improved. I could have been challenged a little further at times too, I get it's a more laidback game with atmosphere to suck in, rather than throwing hectic gameplay or tricky tasks to solve, but I never scratched my head for long or was challenged at a higher level of any sort.

Unravel is a fun and fairly lengthy platforming adventure that deserves attention, if not mostly for the visual atmosphere it so perfectly visualises. If you're from Sweden, Norway or Finland you're gonna really need to pick up this one up and truly enjoy the environments and nature settings. So Unravel then; a solid and fun platformer with beautiful visual style and atmosphere, though objectively for the genre nothing ground breaking new or incredibly polished gameplaywise.



    + Plus points

    • Gorgeous visuals, hitting straight home with it's Scandinavian nature.
    • Original character and setting.
    • Atmospheric with a darker underlying story at times.

    - Minus points

    • A little floaty feel to the controls.
    • Slow pace may not be for everyone.
    • Can get frustrating sometimes.

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