On paper, a character like Yarny shouldn’t work. “So, you mean to tell me that some anthropomorphic cotton strand is a game’s protagonist?” This was exactly what ran through my head when I sat down to review the original Unravel. Fast forward two days and I was singing an entirely different tune, commenting on how charming a glorified lint strand could be. When the sequel was shock-released during EA’s press conference a couple of days back, you best believe that I was instantly onboard. Will Unravel Two (Electric Boogaloo) be a worthy progeny of one of the most creative indie titles this console generation, or was there a good reason why we haven’t heard anything about the game until now?
Two Become One
I am fully willing to admit that I cannot remember a damn thing about how Unravel ended. Without any context as to what has happened between games, everyone’s favorite deconstructed afghan has managed to get himself into quite a bit of trouble. Lost at sea, poor Yarny’s thread is severed after being washed overboard. Under any other circumstances this would spell his doom. Fortunately, he washes ashore to find that he isn’t the only weird, yarn-thing in dire straits. The two survivors end up merging their strands, forever linking their stories together. And so begins the charming adventure of a duo who are literally attached at the hip.
The double protagonist conceit of Unravel Two sets the stage for the game’s underlying emphasis: co-op. Though the core campaign can be completed in single player (that’s how I finished a vast majority), it’s designed to be a two-player experience. Whether platforming or solving surprisingly complex puzzles, everything is better in pairs.
Most of the skills perfected in the first Unravel will be an asset to returning veterans. However, the new shared thread mechanic takes everything familiar and turns it on its ear. It’s almost better that there were a couple years off between releases, because it provides a helpful reset as far as muscle memory is concerned. These differences can especially be seen during the numerous puzzles scattered throughout the main storyline. Having two independently moving characters provides a fresh injection of challenge that completely changes the way each obstruction should be approached.
When playing in solo mode, only one Yarny can be controlled at any given time. A button press is used to swap back and forth between characters. Additionally, if both of the glorified scarf shards are in close proximity, an extended hold of the “switch” button will actually merge the two into a single “UberYarny.” Okay, maybe “uber” might be a bit of an exaggeration. Essentially it turns one of the critters into a glorified backpack. Combining characters may sound trivial on paper, but it’s critical to the survival of the second Yarny when playing single player and critical to the survival of a friendship when playing in co-op. A chase sequence happens in damn near every level, so being able to let the strongest participant take lead while the other watches from the sidelines is a gigantic blessing.
Hanging on by a Thread
But for every moment where one Yarny might take precedence, there are just as many instances of stages that can only be conquered through teamwork. The mechanic of being able to swing goes a completely different direction when both characters can chain together a series of alternating flights. Another key mechanic is being able to anchor one of the mummified popsicle sticks on the top of a platform, while the other dangles below. From a position like this, whomever is hanging can either let out slack to descend lower, swing around at will, or climb up the makeshift bungie to reunite with its conjoined twin. The sheer number of permutations that this single mechanic provides is the backbone for Unravel Two’s drastically varied stage design.
At every major juncture in the action there’s a secondary subplot going on in the literal background. Scripted sequences play out through excessively obstructed, cloudy-looking flashback sequences. I was able to make out the rough human forms of a young boy and girl, which end up being the main characters of the side story. Based off of what I could discern, the duo gets themselves into a series of different scrapes, in what I think might be a zombie outbreak. Honestly, the muddy presentation and lack of any useful audio cues whatsoever made it difficult to follow what exactly was going on moment-to-moment. For all I know, this could actually be telling the story of kids causing mischief and trespassing on private property! I legitimately couldn’t tell what was going on. However, the odd gate of the adult silhouettes led me to the decidedly more apocalyptic interpretation. From where I was sitting, the kids were trying to survive some kind of an outbreak. Maybe it was the development team’s intention to leave the story arc somewhat nebulous? If so, mission a-freakin’-complished, guys.
Unfortunately, the lack of any clearly defined narrative turned me off entirely. By the end of the campaign I had no idea what was going on and quite frankly couldn’t have given less of a shit if I was an anorexic field mouse. At least the stellar soundtrack is there to dictate the mood throughout the action. The sweeping score effortlessly sets the stage for the dual narratives and makes even the most infuriating retry-fail loops slightly more tolerable. If you are a game soundtrack nerd like myself, this is one that you should give a listen.
What made the background storytelling stand out was the deliberately grainy presentation, juxtaposed against the otherwise highly detailed and intricately animated environments. Every moment of the gameplay is stunningly gorgeous at a level that boarders on photo-realism, or at least as realistic as you can be while traversing the countryside as a couple of frayed knots with limbs. The setting is constantly shifting, which also helps drive the variety of different puzzle types. Players can expect to take a brisk jaunt through a sprawling suburbia, several different industrial factories, a stunning interpretation of the “great outdoors” and even a raging river. If you take a second to smell the proverbial roses, you’d be hard pressed to find a two-dimensional platformer that even approaches Unravel Two’s graphical fidelity.
Despite how elaborate each stage’s backdrop might appear, that doesn’t mean there still aren’t issues present in the foreground. In this case, the primary offender is the aforementioned puzzle design. The further you’ve progressed through the campaign, the more finicky the challenges become. Simple malfunctions like lasso points that are just slightly out of reach happen more than a handful of times and were tremendously frustrating. This irritation only amplifies when you restart from the most recent checkpoint only to notice that the moveable signpost you were previously unable to snare is suddenly low enough to hook with ease. Another interesting bug manifests when returning to the game from sleep mode. All of the hint dialog from the reloaded screen will disappear and refuse to re-populate. Once again, restoring the previous checkpoint seems to clear up the issue, but in a title this polished minor flaws stick out like a sore thumb.
It somewhat goes without saying, but Unravel Two feels like the organic evolution of the franchise. The introduction of cooperative mechanics proved to be just enough change to keep things fresh, while still preserving what made the original so special. Weaving the matured puzzle design in amongst the already stunning art style produces a visual patchwork quilt that is unlike anything else on the market. If you can set aside the odd storytelling decisions and the occasional platforming quirk, Yarny’s newest quest is one you won’t want to miss.
Unravel Two review code provided by publisher. Version 1.0 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.