This was my first year at the video game marketing wonderland that is E3, and what an awesome year to start with! SO many great titles were not only announced, but actually playable either on the floor or behind closed doors. By the last day, I was riding on a high of new video games and a metric ass-load of coffee. I made my way to the EA booth to try and squeak in one last playthrough of Mirror's Edge Catalyst, but the lines were closed. That's when I remembered the charming little indie title EA Games had announced they were publishing: Unravel. The line was empty and I was ready to play one last game before heading home, so I jumped in and got ready to be wowed.
In the little briefing before getting my hands on the game, the developers at Coldwood Interactive explained that the purpose of this game is to explore human emotion. Now many artsy-fartsy games make an attempt to push coffee shop philosophy onto gamers to "explore human emotion," but Unravel does it without the air of pretension that others seem to have. This charming tale of a little friend made of red yarn exploring the world and collecting forgotten memories hit me right in the heart strings. (Yarn joke for you there.) Before I even got my hands on the controller, I could tell this game had a lot of heart poured into it just by hearing the genuine love the developers already had for the product.
Once I did finally get my fifteen minutes with the game, I had the chance to see that this game wasn't just charming and beautifully rendered — it was in fact a lot of fun! The physics-based puzzles were just the right level of challenging to make you go, "AH-HA!" and not so painful that you felt like the game was trying to cheat you out of a victory. Each level you start by leaving behind a bit of yarn with each step you take. You try to get to the other end of the level without becoming completely unraveled. There are balls of extra yarn you can collect along the way. This can make puzzles easier or sometimes even more challenging to complete, as you have to think about finding these balls of yarn as well as getting to the end of the level. All of this plays together with unique physics puzzles that will make you actually feel like you're on a tiny little adventure in this big, crazy world.
One example: I had to pass a big open pit. The only way to do so was to flood the pit from a broken spigot nearby, but in doing so I would drown. So I had to drag apples over from the nearby apple tree and drop them in the puddle and jump across them to the other side. At first I thought I was an idiot not being able to figure it out, but as I looked around the room, each player was very clearly having the same "AH-HA!" moment I was. Each one with a big dumb grin on their face I might add!
Along with getting from Point A to Point B in one piece, you also collect forgotten memories throughout the level. These memories vary from location to location. Some are happy memories about family vacations from long ago, or thoughts of beloved family members the memory holder hadn't seen in a long time. Others are painful or scary memories, such as tragedies that have struck those who left the memories behind, like a car accident. Each one makes you feel a genuine connection with these characters despite the fact you never actually meet any of them. It was very interesting and actually made me feel something emotionally that not a lot of games have done before. It's that unique emotional connection that makes Unravel unlike other puzzle platformers I've played before it. You want Yarny to collect these memories and understand this new, big, scary world around him. It's an aspect of the game you really have to play to appreciate, as watching somebody else do it on a screen doesn't give you quite the same feeling. And it is moments like that which make me love video games so damn much: telling a story in a way that gaming is the only medium in which it could possibly wor.
I don't know if it is just that Unravel took me so much by surprise that made me like it so much, or maybe it was just because it capped off an amazing week at E3. But I know I will be keeping a very close eye on this game, because I loved the crap out of the demo I got to play! Yarny is one of my new favorite game characters and I can't wait to join him on his journey.