Unravel was a pleasant surprise at this year’s EA conference. Amidst ATATs and sports and other sports stood a small red figure of yarn. Nothing felt quite so genuine as Martin Sahlin, standing onstage presenting his creation with a shaking voice and hands. Despite the day’s flashing lights, booming bass, and hi-tech trailers, nothing stood out so much as this purely human moment.
Sahlin shared with the room the myth of the red string of fate, a line connecting the lives of those destined to meet. Yarny embodies these notions of love and connectedness, traveling the world “re-connecting the memories of a long-lost family.” In other words, this game is so adorable your face will melt.
Once your hands touch the controller, you feel as if you are holding a delicate piece of Yarny’s world. It takes a sense of fragility and a touch of innocent creativity to aid him through the charming Northern Scandinavia-inspired levels. The scenery is beautiful, backed by a pleasant soundtrack and audio effects that flow perfectly with the game’s light yet impactful spirit.
Yarny leaves a trail of red yarn behind as he wanders the world, opening the door to a slew of unique gameplay features. Yarny is able to use his trail to climb, trapeze, rappel, and much more. The string left behind comes from Yarny’s own figure, so he does eventually run short. Supplementary string can be found around the puzzle, but players will find challenge in managing their rope trails.
The environments of Unravel provide the setting and the adventure for Yarny’s journey. The beauty arises from finding yourself at the whim of what we normally find insignificant. An apple, a puddle, a misplaced rock – Yarny must conquer each obstacle, and we struggle and achieve alongside him. He needs us to usher him along, and we need him to experience the world from a new perspective. Together, Yarny and the player unravel the yet-unknown tale of this title.
Martin Sahlin understood this partnership, this reciprocating connection between a player’s ingenuity and a character’s innocence. He crafted Yarny with his own hands, took him around the world and photographed his journey. He worked with this string and the Scandinavian environment to discover Yarny’s world and how it would unfold. After only a brief time with this game, it’s easy to feel that these organic interactions lie at the core of Unravel‘s wonderfully playful world.
The demo begins with an old woman admiring memories from her past. After setting down a black-and-white photograph of a young boy, she heads upstairs with her basket of yarn. A single spool of red yarn falls and rolls towards the door. Outside the door, Yarny emerges, and while I’d love to make a snarky comment on his miraculous body formation, the idea that we could be following a metaphorical manifestation is too enchanting to spoil.
Moving through levels is puzzling yet enjoyable, because no second spent wandering through this winsome world feels wasted. Playing Unravel is a touching experience that doesn’t forgo gameplay for emotion. Even while platforming, the player can sustain a powerful experience solely from the stunning environment and Yarny’s movements.
The way Yarny fusses with the trailing string, his dejected sigh once he reaches the end of his rope, and the pure wonder in his eyes as he explores the world touch the player constantly. Yarny finds human experiences in a colorful butterfly, a twinge of light, a swirl of leaves – in moments we’ve long overlooked. Riding alongside Yarny, however, we experience it all from untried eyes.
What truly makes Unravel stand out is its undeniable spirit. There is a heart in this game that beats in tandem with the ideals each of us cling to: hope, love, and connectivity. This ball of yarn is a symbol of so many things but, manifested in a small being, becomes human enough to impart a sense of wonder and adventure.
Unravel is the most enchanting title at this year’s E3. Join Yarny on his adventure, and learn something about yourself as well.
The PC version of Unravel can be preordered on EA’s Origin store. The game will also be coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on a yet unannounced date.