The wind is howling and the waves are crashing against the hull of the ship. Yarny is thrown overboard and eventually washes ashore, soaked and alone. His rope tail has been severed; there is no way back, no way forward. To his surprise, another yarn troll clambers out of a suitcase, severed tail and all. They tie their tails together and form a magical, unbreakable bond.
This is how Unravel Two, the sequel to the ultra-charming yarn-adventure from 2016, begins. The game was revealed and launched during EA's presser at E3, and is again knitted, or developed if you will, by Coldwood Interactive.
The two yarn trolls find their way to a lighthouse, which acts as a hub in the game, much like "grandma's" house in the first game. From here you can venture out through different portals and collect memories that turn into pictures on the wall of the lighthouse. Not straying too far from the original pattern so far. During your different adventures, you have to get from A to B by utilising the rope lasso in creative ways to solve puzzles. You'll swing, knot, pull and hoist like it's going out of style. Littered about the level are collectables that can be a bit hard to reach, and in the background, a story is played out by ephemeral figures. Still very familiar territory. Fans of the first game and the stringy little adventurer have a lot to look forward to!
But, there are a few important differences, the main one being that you can now play with a friend. We each stepped into the role of a yarn troll and ventured out into the great big world. It turned out to be a challenging, chaotic and very entertaining experience. There's a lot to keep track of when you have two trolls trying to swing back and forth from the same knot, or trying to time their jumps to avoid hazards like fire or steam, or enemies. It gets especially challenging in one of the game's many chase scenes, where the both of you have to run fast and think faster. There was a lot of yelling and shaking of fists in our living room, we'll tell you that.
It is as a co-op game that Unravel Two really finds its spot in the limelight, and the key element of the entire game is cooperation. You need to help each other out when things get too difficult. Which we did... quite often. And it was great! If one of us made it through a particularly challenging part of the level, and the other didn't, we could just hoist them up by the thread that connected us.
If that technique was unfeasible, we could join forces, intertwine and complete the puzzle as one troll. This lets players traverse obstacles and not have to worry about having to complete them twice, or ruining things for the troll that actually made it across or up or through. In turn, this is an awesome mechanic if you're playing with someone who isn't familiar with platformers, or if you're using the game to introduce non-gamers, be it your kids, friends or significant others to joys of local co-op. It lowers the threshold and stress levels because you have a safety net in the other player, and if things get too difficult the other player can, quite literally, carry you through the entire game. The game also does a good job of teaching newbies techniques and tricks they'll need later; timing, coordination, and button discipline, to mention a few.
Another difference is that in this game you'll encounter enemies, and not just the pike and capercaillie that chase you through some of the levels, but little black smoke monsters that mean you a lot of harm. They represent nightmares or bad memories or something and often they'll turn up in industrial areas - which there are a lot of.
Those of you who expect an encore of the wonderful Scandinavian nature in Unravel will probably be disappointed by Unravel Two. This game features more urban and industrial environments where you have to find your way through playgrounds, building sites and factories, with pockets of nature here and there. It separates the two games and gives each of them a distinct flavour, despite being so similar in other areas. However, we'd trade the exhaust and smog for beaches and cosy cabins in a heartbeat. Still, it is to these areas that the story takes us, although it might have been more palatable had the story been more engaging and interesting. But it isn't, and it feels more like background noise and doesn't really do anything to give the levels some much-needed context. So this feels more like a "standard" platform game, compared to the charming and heartfelt experience its predecessor offered.
What made the previous game so charming, and what made us connect with it emotionally, was definitely the surroundings, the music, the melancholy atmosphere, the themes it handled - but most of all it was the fact that Yarny could, at any time, run out of yarn. This made us assess the risks - was that collectable worth the yarn we would spend getting to it? - and it made us stressed and worried on behalf of the little yarn troll. There was always something at stake.
This element is absent from Unravel Two because the two yarn trolls are self-sufficient, yarn-wise, due to their connection. This makes the game a whole lot easier. It also has more checkpoints, a flying spark that shows you where to go next, the option of asking for hints and slowing down time. It's definitely a more chill game. It's fun, entertaining, and great for beginners, yet it lacks the X-factor. It lacks drive, and purpose.
In addition to all of this, it feels like the developers have tried to make a longer and bigger game without actually having enough stuff to fill all that extra space with. There are long stretches of just walking between puzzle areas, elements are recycled a little too often (like the aforementioned chase scenes - they're fun, yes, but do we really need three in a row?), and the puzzles end up feeling ever so repetitive after a while, because, let's face it, they don't really contribute anything new to the genre. The first game had the same problem, but it had so much more going for it that it didn't bother us as much.
However, this doesn't mean that Unravel Two is a bad game - it just has large shoes to fill, and the comparison might be a tad unjust. As a sequel, it struggles, but as a co-op game, it shines. We've had a lot of fun playing it, and we're going to keep playing now that this review is done. There are still collectables we haven't found, bonus goals we haven't met, and challenge levels we haven't completed. The adventure is far from over!