It takes two to tangle.
I remember the first Unravel more for its adorable protagonist and lush setting than as a puzzle platformer. But Unravel 2 goes a long way to change that, tabling a more accomplished, and at times demanding, platforming experience with puzzles to match.
The most immediately-noticeable change is the addition of a second playable Yarny. The entire story mode can still be tackled solo, however, and I did so without ever feeling at a major disadvantage. When playing alone, Unravel Two allows you to quickly entwine both Yarnys to create a single multi-coloured character, meaning platforming sections only have to be tackled once, thankfully. It’s an elegant little mechanic that works well, even if the image of their spliced beings is ever so slightly harrowing. That said, there are a couple of sections that I can imagine being slightly easier or more elegant with a partner, but it never felt mandatory.
Yarny’s abilities have carried over from the original. He/she/it can swing across gaps, rappel down walls, ascend cliff faces, lasso distant objects and, by tying knots, create bridges, pulleys, and trampolines. There are no major new abilities to single out, but the addition of a second Yarny that adds plenty of depth to these existing ones. For instance, either character can now function as a moveable anchor point, allowing the other Yarny to rappel, ascend, or swing across otherwise impassable gaps. At its best, it feels like you’re mountaineering through the undergrowth.
Playing solo, this allows for some satisfying character switching, as I navigated hazards and inched my way through levels. But in co-op, this mechanic takes on a new dimension – it makes the experience more stressful and much funnier. Since a button must be held for Yarny to anchor his fellow explorer, and sometimes must be released at just the right moment for a jump to be made, it’s essential players coordinate their actions. Otherwise, speaking from bitter experience, you’ll see Yarny crash into the ground or smash against a wall, repeatedly. It takes a little getting used to in two player, but is never fiddly, simply requiring good communication and timing.
The best puzzles involve looping yarn around objects, creating additional anchor points, but in a way that never tangles you up and stops you from moving on. You need to think and plan ahead. Sometimes you also have to creatine multiple temporary bridges to move objects around that can help you climb higher. There’s a decent amount of variety. Ideas are used again, but are elaborated upon in interesting ways. I found the core story puzzles challenging without ever being stumped. And even if you do get stuck, the sequel’s added a pretty robust hint system to help out.
Platforming is also improved. Yarny feels more responsive, and it’s a good thing, too, since there are more sections that demand precision control. Occasionally, like the original, there are sequences that have an element of trial-and-error – you must fail to figure out how to proceed, no matter how finely-tuned your reactions.
The core story is unfolded in seven 20-30 minute levels, which take Yarny once again through verdant forests and slightly more grim urban settings. Behind Yarny, in the background of levels, an ambiguous story plays out featuring shadowy manifestations of past events. From what I can infer, Yarny’s retracing the journey of two teenagers who escape from a care home and go on an adventure that leads them into danger. It’s pretty opaque, and while it occasionally adds atmosphere, I’m not really sure what it adds. It’s much less emotionally involving than seeing Yarny in the foreground being chased by sinister ember creatures or a deranged chicken.
Levels are simply beautiful. Yarny’s tiny stature, and the clever use of forced perspective and photorealistic environments, makes you pay attention to the little details. It’s like looking at nature through a macro lens – whether it’s the spongy moss Yarny has to wade through or the puddles that feel like swimming pools, every texture feels more detailed and engrossing seen from his perspective.
Outside of the core story, there are 20 additional Challenge levels, which are a fantastic addition to the game. After story missions, hidden areas open up within the Lighthouse hub world, containing a handful of additional levels. Each one has a difficulty rating of one to three spikes, which probably gives you a flavour of what they have in store. These are exceptionally fiendish challenges, ranging from Super Meat Boy-style platforming gauntlets, which take dozens of attempts to master. to head-scratching self-contained puzzles. I’ve spent up to 30 minutes getting figuratively – and literally – tangled working out some of these problems. You sense the developers really flexing their design skills in these levels, and they’re a big reason why Unravel Two surpasses the original. However, unlike the core game, some of these challenges definitely benefit from having a second player. Completing these ordeals not only nets you pride but customisation options for your Yarnys, allowing you to change their shape, eyes, and colour.