If there is one thing that will truly make a game standout, it’s a good lead character. Mario, Sonic, Sackboy – all characters that you can instantly recognize in your mind’s eye off of their name alone. Game developer ColdWood Interactive and EA think they have the next big character in their newest addition to the video game pantheon – Yarny, the star of today’s “Can My Kid Play It” game review – Unravel. It’s plainly obvious that there is something striking about this collection of wire and yarn, but are looks enough to allow a kid to play this game? Let’s find out.
Unravel, at it’s core, is a puzzle platformer. In it, you’ll play as Yarny, a yarn character, as you progress through various environments that reside inside of pictures. You’ll progress through a quaint little home as you warp into these pictures which look to belong to an elderly woman living in the Swiss countryside. Once inside of each level, your goal will be to make it to the end of the level by any means necessary. What this usually entails is jumping and swinging your way to the right of the screen while trying to limit your yarn usage (you’re basically using the yarn from your body to do these things) and avoid pitfalls like puddles or long drops. Swinging and dangling will become second nature in no time during your time spent playing Unravel. At first, I found it a little difficult to correctly time when to send out my yarn lasso to connect to a swinging point, but eventually I was a seasoned pro. I could whip from one end of a pier to another with precise controls and pinpoint accuracy (thanks in part to the generous auto targeting the game has). The difficult part of the game comes in the form of figuring out what to do and how when you’re met with one of the game’s notoriously difficult puzzles. You’ll always know where you need to go, but knowing how to do it can become a lesson in patience as well as creativity.
The puzzles in Unravel begin simple enough. You’ll see a place you need to get to and you’ll need to swing/lasso your way there. Eventually, by the third level of so, the complexities of the puzzles begin to show themselves. Figuring out how to get out of an area I previously thought impossible was some of the most satisfying moments in gaming I’ve had this year. There were times when I found myself absolutely stumped by what the game wanted me to do and on multiple occasions, I just had to leave the game alone for a night and come back to it later. This break for my mind seemed to do the trick because I was able to quickly surmount most “impossible” puzzles with this break. The puzzles are often well thought out, very expertly designed, but usually single minded in it’s approach. There are often only one way to complete the task and the game is very specific about it. Deviating from this path may give you glimmers of hope, and often stump you in your execution, but in the end will prove fruitless if it’s not what the developers had in mind. This isn’t a knock against the game per se, just something that deserves to be noted, especially when considering the age of the child that will be playing the game.
Based on the puzzles alone, I would avoid this game for very young gamers. The art style, graphics, and story are all kid friendly, but the level of patience and skill required to handle some of the game’s more difficult puzzles might put this out of the range of most younger kids. Compare this game to the other games your kids play. Do they handle puzzles with ease or do they get frustrated and switch games or become angry with the blocking nature of these obstacles? If they handle puzzles in other games well or prefer this type of gameplay, then don’t let the puzzles scare you. Most can be overcome with enough time and brute force attempts at using everything on the screen. There were even times when I figure out what I needed to do by just aimlessly swinging around the screen. There isn’t anything here that says kids can’t figure this stuff out – it’s more dependent upon their playstyles and patience when it comes to playing puzzle games.
As mentioned above, the puzzles are the only thing you need to consider when buying this for a young gamer. The graphics and story are both kid friendly, although the story could be a little over their head. The story focuses around memories and the sentimental feelings we have towards them, notably as we get older and look back. The levels all take place in beautifully rendered Swedish countrysides with the attention being paid close to the ground since Yarny isn’t very tall. The focus on the micro level of these environments really brings out the whimsical nature of the game as we see life occur close to the ground while life continues in memories on a macro level in the background. It’s a very beautiful scene that always looks whimsical in it’s design, even as your struggle through that one puzzle for the umpteenth time.
Unravel, and it’s main character Yarny, are amazing additions to the video game world and can be enjoyed by gamers of all ages. The decision on whether your little gamer can play it though will depend upon your child’s handling of puzzles in other games. Does your child think outside the box often? Does he get frustrated easily with very difficult, often obtuse puzzles that will leave you scratching your head as you stare at something that seems impossible? These are questions that only you can answer. Rest assured, the rest of the game is incredibly kid friendly. And if you really don’t know how your child will react to the puzzles, take a chance and see – it’s only $20 and if the game is a bust for them, I promise it’ll be something you’ll enjoy playing yourself.
My son may be too young to play Unravel, but that didn’t stop him from showing his new buddy Yarny pictures of me as a baby. Thanks to EA and Coldwood Interactive for sending over a review code and a new friend for my son.
Reviewed on the Xbox One on code provided by the Publisher