I like the basic components of Unravel’s puzzles, though, and there are some good—but never too tricky—spatial challenges to solve. As Yarny runs, he unspools, leaving his body of yarn strewn across the ground (the beautiful, beautiful ground!). You can tie knots around specially-marked hooks, stringing your body between two points to create new platforms to bounce on. Or you can throw out a string to grab onto a tack and swing or climb. Yarny can’t jump very high, so the only way to get around the often tall levels is to Tarzan over gaps, climb his rope-body and push tin cans and boxes around.
Each little area is scattered with connection points and pushable objects, and I liked swinging back and forth to see the big picture before building a modest web of string to elevate me to the next challenge. The simple puzzles—like tying a yarn ramp between the ground and a ledge and pushing a box up it—aren’t satisfying after a while, but Unravel iterates cleverly. In one puzzle, I had to raise a downed tree by pushing a rock into it, but it took me a minute to realize I had to first tie my yarn to a point below the tree, and then the top of the tree so I could climb up it once it was raised. The complexity increases just a bit from there: other puzzles make you conserve your yarn—unspool too much and Yarny becomes sluggish and skeletal until he can’t go on—or operate machinery by pulling on levers or prying open junked old cars.
It’s the objects imbued with physics—rolling tires, see-saw trees, floating ice—that can make Unravel dismal. Yarny’s pathetic hops aren’t very precise, and it’s infuriating to have a puzzle solved, but to have to do it again and again because I keep capsizing a bottle floating in toxic goo. And worse, Unravel throws death at you from off screen. I’m just skipping up a mountainside when—rumble, rumble—a giant boulder crushes me to death. Turns out I was supposed to know to run back the way I came and hide beneath a specific ledge. No, not that ledge, the other one. A decent chunk of Unravel is trial-and-error yarn murder—like a toned-down, less clever Limbo—with birds swooping down to grab soft nesting material, falling barrels smashing me into felt, and deadly water sloshing beneath unstable boats. Misjudging Unravel’s bouncing, tumbling, stupid physics doesn’t usually set you back far, but toss a ball of headaches between only moderately good puzzles and nothing seems very good at all.