Released back in 2016, Unravel was a surprisingly poignant little adventure. Although centered around the adorable Yarny, the backing story depicted something more. Delving into memories both good and bad, there was a real heart to the game. It’s a shame that the gameplay couldn’t quite match up the story-telling fortitude on display by Coldwood Interactive. Now a little over two years later, Unravel Two was the beneficiary of a surprise E3 release. Yarny has returned once again, and this time, it’s not alone.
With the original game getting the world and character off the ground, Unravel Two focuses on expanding the previous title’s mechanics. The big addition this time around is the introduction of a second Yarny to the tale. Joined together through a single thread, the two beings must work together to survive the perilous world they are stuck in. The same core mechanics from the first game, namely swinging, pulling and knot tying, return, but the addition of a friend modifies each of these actions in a fresh way. Over the course of the game, you’ll also be avoiding animals and other dangerous creatures once again, as well. Yarny is a fragile being, so please, try to take care.
Utilizing the second Yarny as an anchor point, players can swing from pretty much any point now, which leads to some creative moments. One occasion has the two alternating swinging and anchoring in order to cross a chasm, while another forces one to pull the other through a deadly maze of fire. The first game had a few interesting setpieces, but it’s clear that the co-op angle allowed Coldwood Interactive to implement even more clever scenarios. By introducing a second character, the sequel also does away with my least enjoyable part of the original, which was the need to replenish yarn. I understand the thematic use of this mechanic, but it often got in the way of the moment-to-moment action. With that eliminated, it gives the platforming segments a sharper focus. It also helps that the gameplay just feels snappier and more responsive, although it’s been awhile since I played the first game, so I may be slightly off here.
Despite the co-op focus, Unravel Two is playable solo, as well as with a friend. The multiplayer part is pretty self-explanatory, as each player takes control of a Yarny. There is no online play, which is a bummer, but I think the experience works better as a couch co-op title anyway. When it comes to single-player, things are surprisingly easy. You can swap between the two Yarny’s with a press of a button, and if you need to move both of them at the same time, you can have one hop onto the back of the other. This can also be done in multiplayer, which is almost a necessity for the more challenging portions. Having put into time with both modes, I did enjoy the solo experience more, but it was also good fun with a friend sitting next to me.
As with the first game, there is a plot going on outside of the glorious adventures of Yarny. Once again taking place in the background, each of the seven levels features a handful of scripted sequences. Utilizing the same art style, the story appears to be about two kids trying to escape a handful of nefarious figures. Honestly, unlike the strong story from the last title, I could barely make sense of what was going on here. I first thought it was about the two trying to escape some kind of abusive environment, but the latter moments paint a more apocalyptic picture. It’s clearly supposed to be difficult to fully decipher, but I wish it wasn’t as obtuse as it was.
While it’s challenging to solve, the story sections do draw attention to one of the strongest aspects of Unravel Two, which is it’s gorgeous presentation. As mentioned, these scenes unfold in a beautiful, almost dream-like style. They stand out in stark contrast to the more realistic look of the rest of the game. Lush forest landscapes, ominous factories and a bright, fire-drenched barn are just a handful of the places the two Yarnys have to traverse. As an added bonus, you can now change the color of Yarny as well, which is as good of a selling point as I can think of. For an indie game, albeit one with EA backing, it’s one of the better looking titles on current-gen consoles.
It’s a bit ironic that the positives and negatives of the previous title have swapped for Unravel Two. The frustrating, unresponsive gameplay has blossomed into a creative, fun-filled co-op experience. Whether you are alone or together, the game is remarkably more enjoyable to play. However, the emotional storytelling of the original has been dumped in favor of a perplexing, off-putting tale. It’s strange that Coldwood Interactive fumbled here, as it seems like telling strong, emotional stories was the whole point of this series. Regardless, a stronger playing game is ultimately a better one, and if there is another entry, hopefully Yarny’s next adventure can bridge the gap between storytelling prowess and fun gameplay.
This review was based on the Xbox One version of the game. A copy was provided by Electronic Arts.
Unravel Two improves upon the original title by not only introducing co-op play, but by also refining the series' uncompromising mechanics. It's a shame that the perplexing story can't match the emotional beats of the last Yarny adventure, though.