Unravel: Physics-based Platforming and Puzzling with a Yarn-based Twist

Much like Ori and the Blind Forest, Limbo, and other beautiful, atmospheric puzzle-platformers, Unravel is packed with personality and has style to spare. Unlike those titles – or any other game, for that matter – Electronic Arts’ charming new indie title is inspired by a Björk song lyric.

According to developer Coldwood Interactive’s Creative Director Martin Sahlin, hearing the Icelandic star sing “While you’re away my heart comes undone and slowly unravels in a ball of yarn…” sparked his imagination and spawned Yarny, Unravel‘s stringy protagonist.

As his name implies, Yarny is a bipedal “being” made of… well, yarn. More than another adorable hero with mascot potential, though, the unique character sports a variety of puzzle-solving skills. Similar to how Rapunzel smartly leverages her long hair to solve problems in the film “Tangled,” Yarny utilizes his body to navigate the environment, avoid hazards, and tackle obstacles.

Attempting to complete what Sahlin described as one of Unravel‘s “darker” levels, we sidescrolled through a creepy forest filled with plenty of potential dangers. While these threats – puddles, rocks, trees, and even litter – wouldn’t be scary to the average video game protagonist, Yarny is no space marine or super-soldier. Navigating this fragile character through a near-photorealistic forest meant fashioning lassos, bridges, trampolines, slingshots, and other string-based tools to progress.

Sahlin called Yarny’s various abilities a “natural extension of the standard platforming tool set,” and the physics-based mechanics allow for plenty of freedom, creativity, and complexity. Rather than always relying on context-specific moves, players are allowed to experiment a bit and make mistakes. This becomes a key part of the experience, when you consider that the yarn you use comes directly from the protagonist’s body. Yarny is composed of a finite amount of yarn – so the more you use this resource, the more he literally unravels.

Thankfully, yarn can be gathered at certain points, allowing the protagonist to regain composition and strength. Monitoring Yarny’s state, while also utilizing his body to progress, makes for a fascinating dynamic. During our demo, for example, we were occasionally left with a skinny hero that was trailed by a lengthy wake of wasted yarn. While this never resulted in death, it required us to retrace our steps and pick up the slack, so to speak. On top of building the aforementioned tools, Yarny can pull and push items, anchor yarn to specific points, swing, climb, and link things together.

Sahlin explained that Unravel‘s gameplay is entirety focused on these physics-based mechanics, and won’t include any combat or boss encounters. That said, otherwise harmless creatures – such as birds and woodland critters – look especially menacing next to the yarn-made hero. Immersive weather effects, like lightning and rain, further sell the concept that you’re inhabiting this fragile being in a seemingly terrifying world. The realistic visuals (which also showed Yarny spill from an old woman’s knitting basket at the start of our demo) go a long way toward delivering this experience. Rather than exploring a fantastical world, Yarny navigates a universe that, while foreign to him, will be completely familiar to anyone who’s stepped outside their front door. In addition to the dark forest we explored, Yarny will travel through what Sahlin called “more playful” areas.

Unravel‘s unconventional presentation – coupled with its physics-fueled, free-form gameplay and cute-but-creepy main character – has us looking forward to what’s shaping up to be one of the year’s most inventive and inspired offerings.