A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Unravel is a poetic downloadable platformer with a modicum of violence. The game's textile hero, Yarny -- an anthropomorphic jumble of red yarn -- never attacks or engages in combat, preferring instead to work out clever means of avoiding any territorial animals -- crabs and crows, mostly -- he comes across. But he can drown, be electrocuted, or get crushed under machinery. When this happens, he collapses and emits a red dust cloud before respawning at a checkpoint nearby. The game's highly allegorical story touches on many themes, including the importance of family bonds, the way in which life tends to ebb and flow, and the frailty we all experience as we slowly spend ourselves in the process of aging.
- Parents say
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What's it about?
UNRAVEL begins with an elderly woman walking through a home full of memories. Along the way, she knocks loose a red ball of yarn from which the game's hero, Yarny, springs into existence. All red thread and expressive white eyes, Yarny runs through the house swinging from and climbing on his own string. Whenever he finds a frame containing a pictorial memory from the old woman's life, he sinks into the image, and one of the game's side-scrolling platformer levels begins. These levels take place in nearly photo-realistic settings, including a farm, a garage, caves, and snowy fields. Danger lurks in the form of the occasional territorial animal or perilous piece of construction machinery, but Yarny's journey is mostly about solving navigational puzzles in creative ways, such as tying his loose ends to a pair of exposed screws to create a bouncy bridge to reach higher areas or rolling an acorn into a snowball and riding atop it. Perhaps more importantly, his journey is about reassembling the past experiences of the elderly lady -- several of which he finds transposed upon the world in each level -- and using them to fill up her photo album with pictures of friends and family in times both happy and sad.
Is it any good?
Some games are fun to play, and some are mediums for provoking messages, but rare are those that are both at the same time. Unravel manages this tricky feat by making its character and his abilities a big part of the message. Yarny, a creature made entirely of wound fibers, is a walking metaphor for the threads that bind families and friends together. He's also an allegory for time and aging; his trailing thread connects him to his past, while his leading end can be used as a lasso to draw him toward the future. And since he's constantly unraveling as he travels from one checkpoint to the next, we can see the frailty that comes to him -- and us -- over time.
All of this is wonderfully clever, but what makes Unravel even better is that Yarny's thoughtful abilities can also be appreciated on their own, apart from any philosophical musings. Using his thread to swing across gaps or as a rope to manipulate machinery is just plain fun. And riddling out the answers to contextual puzzles by combining Yarny's abilities with objects found around the environment -- such as grabbing a piece of garbage on a conveyor belt -- can prove enormously satisfying. That it's perhaps the prettiest 2-D platformer yet made is just a bonus. Simply put, this is one platformer you probably won't want to miss.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the impact of violence in media. Some games don't let the player's character attack but still place him or her in perilous situations, so how do you feel when you haven't the power to fight back but instead need to use your wits to avoid danger?
Discuss growing older. What are some of the benefits of aging? What are some of the disadvantages? Does the idea of getting older excite or sadden you?
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One
- Subjects: Science: life cycle, physics
- Skills: Thinking & Reasoning: analyzing evidence, applying information, solving puzzles
Emotional Development: moving beyond obstacles, persevering
- Price: $19.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Electronic Arts
- Release date: February 9, 2016
- Genre: Puzzle
- Topics: Bugs, Wild Animals
- ESRB rating: E for Mild Fantasy Violence
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