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Game Review

In this rush-and-dash day and age when Facebook and Twitter are constantly demanding our scattered attentions, most of us don't often think about … knitting.

Ah, but there are some who still love the comfortable, mind-clearing knit-and-purl of creating fluffy whatnots for favored loved ones. And even if you're on the outside looking in, there's still something quiet and soothing about the sound of rhythmically clicking needles and the sight of a slowly unraveling ball of hand-wound yarn.

The gamemakers at Electronic Arts attempt to roll that sense of soft wooly goodness up into a heartstring-plucking yarn all their own. Unravel has gamers play as that aforementioned unrolling ball of yarn, magically anthropomorphized into a little life-form called Yarny. This red, wound-up figure has no mouth or nose, just two white dot eyes. But he's one of the most expressive video game guys you're apt to find. And that's a good thing, for he has a journey of emotions set before him.

Weaving In and Out

Yarny is a curious little fellow. While in the house owned by an unnamed old woman, he silently climbs up on desk tops and clambers onto mantelpieces, always trailing a line of unraveling yarn behind him. But when that six-inch-high yarn doll finds a small framed photo in any given nook or cranny, he'll stop and gaze longingly at those snapshot memories of someone's past. Then Yarny carefully steps forward and in, and those small pics stretch out into beautiful and detailed environments: an oversized world of giant mushrooms, sticks, stones, tree branches, streams, fences, snow mounds, discarded rusty things and dirt paths that the little yarn guy must make his way through and over.

Now, all that may sound like easy going, but when you’re a yarn bundle that's only yay high, those environs become huge, seemingly impossible puzzlements. You and Yarny must find ways to use both his wound-up and trailing-behind essences to lasso tacks, pull levers, haul tin cans, yank open gates, or swing to overhead twigs. Sometimes it takes tying off and stretching a length of yarn between two points to create a tightly twisted bridge, or a trampoline bouncy enough to get you to the next platform height. Or it might be as easy as grabbing onto a kite stuck in a tree to soar over a difficult area.

Unravel's puzzles and spatial challenges are never too overly difficult to master, and the controls are rather intuitive. But there are things you have to keep in mind in these nicely designed levels. For instance, Yarny always needs to keep track of how much of himself he's unspooling. There are little discarded yarn bundles here and there to replenish his girth, but he can only stretch so far before there's nothing left.

There are also environmental difficulties to deal with. Tossing absorbent yarn into any stream or pool of water will definitely be a deadly disaster, as you might imagine. Snapping crabs, swarming cockroaches, swooping birds and any passing rodent won't hesitate to pluck or chew a colorful yarn guy to lint, even if he is so cute.

The Ties That Bind

That sweet, emotional story I mentioned? Well, it certainly adds a thoughtful dimension to Yarny's worsted wanderings. As he explores (accompanied by a string-based soundtrack, of course), faint memory-laced images fade in and out of the background. And later, more snapshots appear in the yarn-boy's scrapbook back home. Each picture and level—from a lazy summer garden day to a drizzly fall forest trek to a swirling winter storm—begins weaving together a story of family, love and loss.

It's a broad narrative that feels specific enough to be called one person's past—but familiar enough to sort of fit your own. "Love forms bonds, like strands of yarn," a scrapbook page tells us. "Like yarn those bonds can be fragile, or get all tangled." And just like that, you can't help but feel at least a bit connected to little Yarny and his scrapbook of memories tale … that trails behind him in such a soft, colorful and, happily, family-friendly way.

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