Whether you have a passing knowledge of video games or have been playing them fro a while, you will know that many of the most popular titles are shooters. First person shooters where you embody a character and seek enemies to shoot your military or sci-fi weaponry at, or third person shooters where you cover behind walls before laying down bursts of return fire. It may surprise anyone then that a very popular game that isn’t a shooter but a platformer (where your task is to navigate from one place to the next using the various segmented surfaces of your environment), and a game that isn’t about killing opponents but actually about growing up in Sweden.
This game is Unravel, a much quieter and calmer game than its completion, but one that found much praise from both critics and players alike. Created by Swedish games company Coldwood Studios, a small studio founded by just five people, though several members were the first to develop games in Sweden and have been at it since the late 90’s. This game puts the player in the role of Yarny, a bright red, loveable anthropomorphic ball of yarn who has the ability to unravel (partly the idea for the game’s title) the strands of himself and recoil them back into his body. Using this ability players make their way across levels by throwing out streaks of yarn that become swings, paths, springs and bridges to new sections.
Though the gameplay itself isn’t quite revolutionary, the environment of the game and its translucent narrative are unquestionably the parts that have captured the imagination of all who have played it. Firstly, the look of the came is stunning, a high level of photorealism exists all around, from the fibers that make up Yarny’s tiny red body to the blades of grass, mushrooms and machine parts that litter the landscape he has to traverse. It looks nothing short of beautiful and brings with it a level of fantasy that is hard to pin down, simply because it all looks so real.
The other wonderful part of the game is how the story progresses. Each level is approached by Yarny finding a photograph in his owners house. From here he enters the world of the photo and essentially replays the memories that are held within. This provides not just backstory but charm, wonder and even elements of danger that the player must surpass, and it seems the humans in the story have not forgotten. The plot and its ecosystem are heavily Swedish. Many of the memories are reconstructed from the developers own life growing up there such as creative director Martin Sahlin’s experience living in a small town. The levels and puzzles are based on elements in the city of Umeå, yet much of the game is spent in quiet woodland, blissful fields or snow topped hills. With both a story that is focused around childhood, family memories and other emotional themes the love for Sweden itself is clear in both its visuals and the wonderful soundtrack which integrates Swedish folk into soft acoustic background strumming. The outcome is a fun, steady and emotive experience that will leave people less inclined to shoot one another and instead visit the beautiful outdoors of Sweden.