Unravel Hands-On Preview

It feels likes forever ago we were shown the first teaser trailer for developer Coldwood’s beautiful side-scrolling platformer Unravel and it’s immediately likeable lead character Yarny. In actuality it was only at E3 2015 that the game was announced but with the immediate interest in the game and the steady drip feed of new trailers since it feels like we have been waiting a lifetime. With the game due to release on February 9th, EA have released a trial of the first two levels of the game through its Xbox One service, EA Access. Thankfully it seems like the wait has been worth it as Unravel is shaping up to be one the best puzzle platformers of the current console generation.

The first thing you will notice about the game is undoubtedly the visuals. The Swedish developers have lovingly crafted each area of the game based on the environments they experienced growing up. It really it a stunningly beautiful game with nigh on photorealistic visuals, which is a stark contrast to the often more cartoon oriented graphics of other side scrollers. The first level takes you through a back garden, scrambling over sun loungers and clambering up buckets and spades to navigate through a shed whereas the second level takes you on a trip to the seaside, crossing sand dunes with the sound of waves crashing and seagulls chirping in the background. It remains to be seen how much variety the rest of the levels will have, but the early signs are definitely positive.

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Despite the gorgeous backdrops the star of the show is undoubtedly Yarny, the sentient ball of wool you navigate through the levels. Everything about its movements are charming, from the confident strut at the start of a level or the way it shakes itself dry after getting wet. The developers have done a great job in managing to evoke a range of emotions despite controlling what is, in real life at least, an inanimate object. It truly is heartbreaking when you get deep into a level and see Yarny get skinnier and skinnier until it’s visually struggling to continue, but this gives ways to elation when you find a top up of wool, which act as the games checkpoints.

Underneath its beautiful vistas and endearingly lead character though, lies a devilish puzzle platformer capable of some truly head scratching conundrums. It starts off simple enough, using your thread to rappel down trees or swing across gaps but things quickly get more complex. You can connect thread to certain objects in the environment and connecting between two points can allow you to create a makeshift trampoline to vault to previously out of reach areas. The standout sequence so far is a section where you use a kite found in a tree and the power of the wind to fly little Yarny throughout the seaside trees. The first two levels also feature numerous segments where you must interact with items in the levels, an early example involving dropping an apple into a pool of water you can then stand on to avoid drowning. It sounds simplistic writing about it but even in the first couple of levels I caused little Yarny to succumb numerous times to various fates, be it drowning, running out of thread or even attacked by a pesky crab. Also, as mentioned earlier you need to find more thread in the environment to keep going but these aren’t always on the beaten path. Sometimes you will even need to put thought into collecting these or you can easily find yourself in a sticky situation.

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Thankfully I was never frustrated by Unravel even when things weren’t going well. Respawns are pretty much instant, checkpoints are frequent enough that you are never replaying a large portion of a level and there is an instant restart mechanic if you know you have gone wrong somewhere. Also, the combination of the beautiful backdrops and the melancholic soundtrack give the game an almost serene feeling so even when you should be climbing the walls with frustration you just respawn and carry on.

Despite on the whole being very impressed with what I have played of Unravel so far there are a few concerns I still harbour over the final game. First and foremost is how much lasting value the game will have, which admittedly is a concern with just about every puzzle platformer, not unique to Unravel. The two levels in the trial are both fairly long, and if I had to guess I reckon the final product will take about eight to ten hours to complete. The issue is that, as with every game of this nature, once you have worked out the puzzles once, there is little incentive to play through the game again. Completionists will certainly replay in order to get all of the collectables, so of which are fiendishly well hidden. For those who aren’t bothered about this though, replayability will likely be an issue. My only other issue is how much variety the puzzles will have in the final product. Even in the space of the first two levels some puzzles repeat quite frequently. I’m sure some of the later levels will have much more complex sequences that make use of all your skills but the first two levels feel almost like a tutorial at times.

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Overall though, I have been very impressed by my time with Unravel so far. It is stunningly beautiful, has an immediately endearing lead character and very satisfying platforming. Developer Coldwood have burst onto the scene and if the final product matches the beauty of the opening two levels, then we could have a very special little game on our hands.

Unravel is out on 9th February 2016 for Xbox One and Playstation 4 for £14.99. Xbox One customers with a subscription to EA Access can download the free trial now and if you choose to buy the game progress with carry over and you can get a 10% discount, bringing the price to £13.49.

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About Michael Dalgleish
Michael is a Harrogate based, predominantly console gamer on both Playstation 4 and Xbox One that has been writing for Zero1Gaming since 2012. Purveyor and lover of all things indie, when he is not playing the latest downloadable titles you will usually find him immersed in a myriad of other genres from RPG’s to FPS’s and other three letter abbreviations. Feel free to add him Xbox at Dowgle or Playstation at Juxta-Dowgle or search Michael Dalgleish on Facebook or LinkedIn.