Electronic Arts may be known for juggernauts like Madden NFL, Battlefield, and Dragon Age… but in the case of the all-new Unravel, the publisher knew that it had to stick up for the little guy. During last year’s E3 Expo, Patrick Söderlund, Executive Vice President of EA Studios, revealed that he was so impressed by the game when he first saw it that he immediately knew EA had to have it. Söderlund had come a long way to see this hidden gem – to Coldwood Interactive, a 14-person indie studio in northern Sweden. And we’re talking way north in a city called Umeå, closer to the Arctic Circle than Stockholm and on the same latitude as Iceland, Siberia, and Alaska.
A studio’s location isn’t always relevant to the games they create, but there’s clearly a close connection here. Coldwood creative director Martin Sahlin was inspired to create the game on a camping trip with his family in the wilderness outside the city, where he crafted an anthropomorphic twine critter named Yarny with some wire and a bright red ball of yarn. Sahlin subsequently placed his adorable new creation in all sorts of situations – crossing a stream, wandering by a lake – to figure out how this creature would potentially traverse the terrain in a game. You’ll see a whole lot of that inspiration onscreen in Unravel, and the game feels immensely organic as a result.
You may have seen games with a yarn-inspired aesthetic before, but it’s safe to say that you’ve never experienced quite what Unravel has to offer. It’s unique as an artistic creation – and as a puzzle-platformer. The major point of interest here is that Yarny isn’t exploring a fantastical cross-stitch universe; instead, he’s a creature made of yarn, who’s come to life in our world (real-life physics and all). The resulting clash of fantasy and reality creates some of the most stunning visual displays you’ll find on Xbox One.
Yarny literally unravels as he explores the great unknown, and the game encourages experimentation when it comes to traversing the world – much of it revolving around Yarny himself. He can tie himself between two posts and hop on the resulting string, propelling himself into the air with an impressive leap. He can attach himself to a nearby rock (Sahlin likens it to scaling the side of a mountain) and jump off, grab hold of himself, and swing through the trees like a twine Tarzan. In a snow-packed area clearly inspired by northern Sweden, Yarny can anchor himself to a makeshift toboggan and slide down an icy pass. He can even attach a piece of himself to a kite and float through the air on a gentle breeze. If Yarny can unravel his body in just the right way, just about anything becomes possible.
And while the natural world plays a big part in Yarny’s adventure, he also has to navigate his way through the machinery of mankind, which offers its own set of challenges. And when Yarny encounters a threat – like, say, a critter about the size of a gopher – it’s not about using brute force to smash his way through. Instead, Sahlin wants players to take an intellectual approach to sticky situations and figure out how to use Yarny’s stringy body to their advantage.
Let’s put it this way: You may have played platformers that incorporate physics into the equation, but you’ve never gotten your hands on a game where Newton’s laws of motion are so intertwined between the protagonist and the environment. Unravel is like looking out the window on a long train ride, seeing the trees and power lines whiz by, and passing the time by sending an imaginary creature hopping across them… only this time, you can control the action on your Xbox One. And all of this is accompanied by a stirring, string-heavy soundtrack that truly accentuates the onscreen action and serves, in Sahlin’s words, as the game’s narration.
But it’s not just the gameplay that makes Unravel stand out as a puzzle-platformer. At the center of the story is the thread that ties us together. It’s clear that the folks at Coldwood Interactive want Unravel’s emotional tug to mean just as much as the awe-inspiring exploration – the yarn itself represents love, and as it unravels, we may lose something close to us.
Best of all: You can experience it now. Unravel debuts today on Xbox One and Windows PC!