Developer: Frostwood Interactive
I am 100 hours into Tears of the Kingdom and very much not done playing, but it's also June and a ton of new indie games are coming out! I'm excited but slightly overwhelmed. I picked up Unwording a few weeks back as I thought it looked short and sweet, easy to play in between other games, and fairly unique. Unwording is a puzzle game about overcoming negative thoughts and seeing life in a new perspective. Unwording has unique type of puzzles that feel consistent with how our brains can form thoughts, but it somewhat fails to make its message and emotions really land.
You play as Tom, who sees the world through a dark lens and processes what he sees into negative thoughts about himself. The world you start out in is monotone, purple, and two-dimensional. You are given normal words such as "wake up" and rearrange them into what Tom thinks - in this case, "give up". He goes outside, goes to work, and continues taking neutral thoughts and turning them into something negative. He continues like this until the next day, when a little bird flies into his apartment after Tom leaves his window open. This bird causes a huge mess - it literally poops on Tom's bed and phone - and causes him to have to respond frantically. However, this little bird continues to follow him throughout his day. The bird allows him to start seeing the world in a new perspective (literally - the graphics change to 3D) and he starts to change his negative thoughts into more realistic, self-affirming thoughts.
Unwording is interesting in that it changes art styles completely during the course of the game. The first part, when the world is two-dimensional, has a hand-drawn look and there's not much color in the world. Then, when the world becomes three-dimensional, you see it in full color and depth. I feels consistent even when it changes, because the character faces and style maintain the same overall look. You still recognize the people and places. However, I personally liked the first art style better. I know story-wise, Tom's life is improved when he sees in 3D, but I just found that this style is less forgiving and can look a little odd with the simplistic faces. Credit to the artist, though, I do think the lighting used during the 3D part of the game was really impressive and reflected the mood of the story. The soundtrack is soft and melancholy, blending nicely with the rain that pours down at the beginning of the game. As the story progresses, the music becomes more upbeat and hopeful but but equally relaxing. It's the kind of music I'd listen to if I really wanted to take it slow - it even makes me a little sleepy.
I really enjoyed the puzzles in the first part of Unwording. Even though it's Tom taking a neutral thought and turning it into a negative thought, you have to do some guessing and analysis of his life to find the solution. After Tom meets the little bird and starts to approach his thoughts differently, the puzzle changes to a 3D challenge. I honestly didn't like this type of puzzle as much, but it was still enjoyable. Instead of piecing together words with the letters you had, you rotate the blocks to form the words in specific angles. It can be a little tricky, especially when you don't have the blocks perfectly rotated. I found myself looking for just the word "A" for the longest time, and it wouldn't count it until I had rotated it exactly the right way. Regardless of the type of puzzle, I think this game needed more of them. Towards the ending, the game becomes more about Tom making new choices and living life, but I think the puzzles could've still been integrated into this. The final part of the game allows you to "fill in the blank" and actually type Tom's action or thought, which is a really fun free-form idea, but felt limited by what the game would actually accept as an input. I spent a lot of time just guessing simple words and not getting anything to happen.
If you have struggled with negative thoughts yourself, you may not find it too hard to find what Tom is thinking and figure out the early puzzles. I had a period in my life, mostly in college, where I was constantly in my head, berating myself for everything I did wrong and having a lot of negativity towards myself. It takes a lot of conscious effort to overcome that and counter those thoughts, but thankfully I've come out of it as a person who's gracious and forgiving to myself most of the time. I think Tom's story is definitely relatable to many, but it's hard to understand how he comes to change and grow. The little bird who upturns his life makes him start seeing things differently - but why? There wasn't a clear understanding of how the bird went from pooping on his bed to being a positive influence in his life. Also, the limits of how you could interact with people didn't feel consistent with the way the game progresses. Near the end Tom is making a conscious effort to try to connect with other people, but all you can really do is just wave at people. Also, something very seemingly impactful happens near the end of the game and seems like it'll change how others see him, but then it kind of goes nowhere and left me feeling confused (sorry to be vague - I don't want to spoil a fairly big moment).
Unwording is a little thoughtful attempt to convey a difficult situation that many people deal with, and how you can make a conscious effort to be kinder to yourself. I really appreciated the way it tied this in to its puzzles, but I wish it continued using that gameplay to tie into its story. I found it just felt a little unfinished and unpolished a times, running into glitchy situations and the story being a little unclear. However, it's still a unique little game that I would recommend to those who like puzzle games and games that explore mental health.
Unwording is available on PC and Mac
Played on: PC
Last Played: 6/6/2023
Playtime: 1.5 hrs