Let’s admit that as gamers we’re all a bit superficial. I mean, nothing attracts the attention of the gaming world like some good old-fashioned eye candy, right? Visuals seem to be the main focus of every single console generation, dating all the way back to George Plimpton touting the Intellivision’s “realistic” graphical superiority in baseball or golf over Atari’s 2600, and with this year’s E3, things are no different. With the big AAA releases like Fallout 4 or Uncharted 4, gamers are of course looking to be wowed, but even smaller releases like Cuphead can garner their share of attention by doing something aesthetically different. Strangely enough, two side-scrollers decided to incorporate a similar tactile motif, and while the results will undoubtedly be much different experiences, by fashioning characters and worlds made of soft, fuzzy yarn, both Unravel and Yoshi’s Woolly World have already turned heads and warmed hearts with the mere promise of HD cuteness. Whether that’s enough is of course a matter of opinion. Sometimes a pleasant trip through several vibrant, soothing stages is enough, but it’ll be interesting to see if in the end their beauty is more than skin deep.
Hype is nothing new to the game industry, especially when it’s centered around something so noticeable as art style. But for every Donkey Kong Country there is a Clay Fighter. Every Viewtiful Joe has its Killer 7. Remember when people were talking about Ryse: Son of Rome? Seems so long ago, but it did happen. Yeah, occasionally we get the dud, but it doesn’t seem to really matter. Like birds and shiny objects, we can’t resist the sparkle. After all, it’s hard to see past the glitz when all you get is a highlight reel. Keeping that in mind, both Unravel and Yoshi’s Woolly World would seem to have a bit more to prove.
Coldwood Interactive’s Unravel debuted during EA’s press conference, and in many minds stole the whole shebang, in a presentation that included a new Mirror’s Edge and the much anticipated Star Wars: Battlefront, a telling sign of just how gorgeous this game is. Making a hero out of a little anthropomorphic skein of yarn, aptly named Yarny, Unravel spins a metaphor for lost love, with a woolen protagonist traversing a brilliantly rendered realistic outdoor environment (inspired by a camping trip in Sweden), trailing a single red thread behind him always, unspooling more and more as he grows further apart from where he came from, where his heart belongs. The game certainly won the adoration of the public, often being referred to as the most emotional reveal of the show, and I have to admit that the trailer certainly pulled the right strings. But how will it play? That’s tough to say so far, but from what the footage showed, Yarny will use his thread to not only solve puzzles and overcome obstacles, but sometimes to just get around. A particularly outstanding moment has the little guy hooking a fish with it in order to be pulled across a body of water. Another had him using his own yarn to form a kite, catching an updraft and ascending breezily into the air. Along with the standard swinging from branches and rope bridge-type stuff that one would expect from a thread-based platformer, Unravel looks to have some creative uses for Yarny’s peculiar abilities, and that gives hope that the indie darling will be more than just a pretty face. Of course, it could play like garbage and I’d still want to gaze dreamily at it.
With Nintendo’s Yoshi’s Woolly World, it isn’t just everyone’s favorite friendly dinosaur that gets the knit treatment, but the entire world within the game, and every creature populating it. The developers, Good-Feel, have previous textile experience in the Wii’s Kirby’s Epic Yarn, but for Woolly World they’ve completely amped up the yarnage, going from 2D string shapes to full-on crocheted HD fuzziness. The result is the look of something I’d like to take a nap in, a wonderful land where I’m sure only sweet dreams could ever be possible. A couple of things worry me though: while this is a Nintendo-produced game, which implies a certain quality, games starring Yoshi haven’t exactly been the most magical as of, well, quite a while. That’s not to say they’re bad, but when I think Nintendo platformer, serviceable isn’t what normally comes to mind. While Epic Yarn was cute, it was a mostly forgettable experience. Let’s also not forget Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, another game that promoted a luscious setting to play around in, only to come up slightly short in the satisfying gameplay department. On the positive side, Woolly World won’t force the player to look away from the breathtaking HD display, and won’t (so far) involve wonky touchscreen controls, so it’s got that going for it already. The usual Yoshi abilities look to be in full force, substituting yarn balls tossed instead of eggs, and a variety of vehicles to transform into, mixing with Epic Yarn-like world altering, where tugging threads undoes elements of the woven landscape, but otherwise roughly the same sort of gameplay as his first titular adventure on the SNES. It’ll be up to Nintendo to make sure this feels fresh, and hopefully some of the care and imagination that was so lovingly poured into creating this beautiful, fluffy world will also be on display in the level design, keeping Yoshi’s Woolly World from coming apart at the seams. Either way they’ve completely sold me on the Yoshi amiibo made of yarn. Simply adorable.
There’s no second chance at a first impression, and both Unravel and Yoshi’s Woolly World have gotten what they wanted: our positive attention. How they’ll eventually play out remains to be seen; all flash and no substance, or the whole package? The thing is, it probably doesn’t matter. While looks may not be everything, often in the gaming world they’re enough.
Unravel currently has no release date, while Yoshi’s Woolly World is set to come out on October 16th.