Before we were whisked away to the back of EA‘s booth for a chance with Unravel, my colleague and I caught creative director, Martin Sahlin, outside of the event. He looked a little nervous, much as he did during his EA spotlight. He was holding the little cat-like creature he had created for his game, Yarny, and something about his obvious attachment to the character was so charming.
I had just a few minutes with him, but Sahlin went on to tell us about how he never expected Unravel to make it. He was shocked when EA expressed interest, and ultimately went on to fund his creation. Their small team of 14 has been working hard to produce something to show E3 attendees, and I couldn’t be more excited for what I saw.
“A game should enrich its audience, and never take away control from the player.” This was the philosophy studio Coldwood Interactive maintained when they began work on Unravel. During our time together, the developers spoke candidly about their experience in the industry. Before Unravel, Coldwood had produced several other titles, but none of these were titles they actually loved. The journey with Yarny was different, as they described how they finally created something they were in love with and proud of. After a long history as game developers, Coldwood has finally created a title that’s special to them.
Unravel is inspired by nature. Throughout the game, players will encounter a variety of scenarios familiar to the developers’ home in Umeå, located in the northern part of Sweden. Every season is represented, and Yarny will face new trials with every shift in the weather.
“What can you do as yarn?” The question was posed to us to inspire some childlike wonder. Another aim of Unravel is to make the player feel small, to put them in a position of feeling vulnerable and curious. After being given the chance to play, I can confirm that Unravel looks like it will accomplish everything it sets out to do.
The story feels familiar, as we all experience that nagging loneliness from reminders of far away loved ones. In the beginning of the demo, we’re presented with an old woman who seems to be living alone. She doesn’t speak, but there’s no need for words in Unravel as the music and environment perfectly narrates the story.
The old woman is clearly reminiscing over moments with family members and visions of her past as she stares at a few photos. This is where Yarny comes in, the little yarn creature who rolls out of the woman’s basket represents her emotions, and the yarn is the bond that ties her to her family.
Unravel is a puzzle platformer, and the demo was rather basic in regards to the genre, but folks from Coldwood assured me that the levels become a little more complicated as things progress. Yarny can tie pieces of himself to different objects and use them to navigate over obstacles by creating a bridge. This bridge can also be used to as a trampoline, aiding Yarny in those tougher jumps.
There’s also a hook mechanic, and the ability to tie yarn around other objects to drag around. Basically, Unravel sort of plays like LittleBigPlanet or a toned down Rayman. The gameplay is nothing special, but it serves its purpose and is at least smooth.
Unravel’s wordless narration is the real gem within the game, but no matter how simple the gameplay is, it does feel like it achieves what Coldwood intended. I always maintained control of Yarny, and that helped build upon the connection I had to the adorable yarn creature.
As Yarny, I crossed through a yard that was filled with memories of laughter. Yarny was happy, it was apparent in the way he moved and other mannerisms. Things grew more intense, and I stumbled over a wet highway while avoiding a car. It’s a little difficult to keep it together while watching Yarny shiver and hug himself. This isn’t all though, as this brings us back to Yarny being the emotions of the old woman.
While the little yarn cat experiences such sorrow, a memory of the woman plays in the background. It’s something clearly traumatic, as there’s shouting and panic. It was a little hard to make out, and I wasn’t clear on what exactly was happening, but our kindly grandmother figure has obviously experienced some sort of trauma.
I only had about thirty minutes with Unravel, but it was enough time to decide this was a game I would be keeping an eye on. The narration through the environment, music, and expressions of Yarny made this game one of my favorite things at E3. For those interested, it’s up now for preorder on Origin. There’s no release date yet, but when it does launch, Unravel will be available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.