Long ago, while Finley and Oliver were still cooking, I had dreams of zoning out on the couch with my children and destroying an entire new generation in Bomberman. Things haven’t worked out so far with Finley, who has shown minimal interest, zero aptitude, and even less patience when it comes to traditional controller-in-hand video games. Since I had no desire to test how many times my TV can stand up to thrown Xbox controllers (though evidence suggests at least once), I had more or less given up on that dream.

Then came Kella. A few months ago, while she was watching me play *cough* Metal Gear Solid 5 (totally kid appropriate), she decided that this video game thing was for her. The dream was reignited.

Since then, I’ve had a hard time finding games for the Xbox One (or 360 for that matter) that are family friendly. So I thought that for a new series, I would look at the games she and I have played together, and how much they has warped her mind.

And no, I haven’t played more Metal Gear Solid 5 with her, once I realized that even if Snake was only “helping the bad guys take a nap,” it still more than deserved its M rating.

First up: Unravel.

Unravel is absolutely gorgeous. It is either a frightening story about an evil yarn monster sneaking into the photorealistic memories of an old lady and snatching them away for its own personal consumption, or it’s an adorable tale of that same Yarn creature simply reliving those memories. It’s most likely option number 2.

This little monster will come for you in your sleep. And have a totally whimsical adventure!

This little monster will come for you in your sleep. And have a totally whimsical adventure!

As an adult recommending this game to other adults, I have no hesitation whatsoever. But what about for the kiddos? The game is rated E by the ESRB, but let’s go a little past that.

Gameplay: The actual mechanics of the game were perfect and intuitive. . .for me. For Kella, she could move Yarny (who she called Lizzie, after I told her that she couldn’t call her Kella because it would be too confusing) around okay, but she couldn’t manage anything other than the simplest of puzzles. This ended up meaning she would play maybe a couple minutes of a level before passing the controller over to me. Not that I minded, since I really enjoyed working out the puzzles (unlike Minecraft, which I never want to play again), but she was a bit disappointed that she couldn’t play more.

This, unfortunately, is a theme among the Xbox games we’ve played so far, but I’ll talk more about them in time.

Finley was even drawn in by the fantastic graphics and whimsical nature of the early levels and wanted a turn. I relented, as I almost always do. Five minutes later the controller was predictably hurled at the carpet.

Side note–the Xbox One controllers are surprisingly durable.

Theme: The bigger question than whether Kella can play it is what she’s getting out of it while Yarny Lizzie is deftly maneuvering her way along the Swedish countryside. I’m happy to say there’s no killing. There’s not even helping people take a nap with a dart gun to their face.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some potentially difficult topics to discuss. Unravel has a fairly vague story (a paragraph per level with a few photographs), but there’s enough of one that Kella and I had to have a few chats.

Note that there will be some spoilers below (though the plot is vague, so spoilers aren’t that big of a deal).

The first item I mention only briefly because I didn’t see it as an issue. In one of the levels, the game MAY be implying that the old woman’s daughter is a lesbian. It’s really not clear. I mention it more because I was a bit worried while playing that level that the story would turn to address a broken relationship between mother and daughter because of the daughter’s love life, and I really didn’t want to have that chat with my four year old right then during our fun video game time. But, thankfully, whatever the game was implying, it didn’t turn into a relationship struggle a la Gone Home.

Shortly after that level, though, things get darker. The first dark turn is through a corporate created environmental disaster. Kella had a lot of questions about why there was so much poisonous green ooze on the ground. I imagine that since Captain Planet is no longer on the air brainwashing the current generation, many other kids will have similar questions.

Finally, the last few levels deal with death. The game starts with an old woman by herself reminiscing over old pictures of her husband and two kids, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that her husband died. The last couple levels journey through how he dies and the frozen heartbreak the old woman had to suffer through after her loss. Because of our family’s experiences, the topic of death is thrown out almost as casually as what flavor of ice cream we’ll pick up next, so Kella knew exactly what was happening during those levels. Not every family is so familiar with death, though, and playing these later levels could bring up difficult conversations.

Yes, the snow IS a metaphor.

Yes, the snow IS a metaphor.

Recommendation: Kella loved playing this game alongside me, even though she wasn’t able to do much play by herself. Thematically, I thought it was perfectly appropriate for my kids, but it certainly has a few hard topics that are good to be prepared for before the questions come up.