As beautiful as the original Unravel was, there was a lingering melancholic sadness for an old woman’s aging life and loss that you just couldn’t shake after the credits rolled. But for Unravel 2, developer ColdWood Interactive is doing things a bit differently, especially when it comes to tone and subject matter. The game still opens with our favourite little ball of wool, Yarny, but this time he’s on a little boat out at sea in the middle of a storm. He’s tossed into the dark waves and there’s a snap. No, it’s not my heart breaking with the sadness of it all, it’s the sound Yarny’s woolen tether snapping; freeing him from his bond with the land he’s left behind, and in a way the first game too. He winds up on another unknown land, untethered and very alone. It’s already all starting to feel a bit like the original game, but then it changes. There’s another Yarny. The pair tie their cords together and suddenly the entire tone shifts. Whereas the original game was an exploration of loss, aging and various fears, this is a game about friendship and forging new bonds.
That’s because, in quite a surprise turn, Unravel 2 is co-op title, where you and a friend take control of a little Yarny creature each, joined together by a woolen thread. Well, either that or you can do it all in single-player, hitting a button to switch between the two characters, but also occasionally intertwining them into one being that ‘carries’ the other to let you run through passages quickly. But, the shift to two characters is one that totally changes the dynamic of the puzzle mechanics. The first game revolved around physical puzzles, mainly using the idea that you could build woollen bridges to push objects around a level. But although that mechanic is still a part of Unravel 2, it’s just one tiny fragment of the puzzle solving this time around. There are many more logic puzzles than than the physics-driven variants of old. Though don’t assume that means less action. Yarny’s move set includes wall-jumping, climbing, using the two characters as pendulum swings to reach new areas, and heck, there’s even a part where you can ride a skateboard on a halfpipe, in one of the cutest versions of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater I’ve ever seen.
That’s the kind of thing that personifies Unravel 2’s marked shift in tone though, to one that’s much more playful than the original. A quick nudge on the D-Pad makes Yarny pull off some seriously Sackboy-esque emotes, but about 100 times more adorable. Yarny and his new pal even go into what developer ColdWood deems an ‘elated state’ if you pull off a great wool swing or complete a puzzle, doing 360-degree flips every time they jump for a short time, doing tiny little fist pumps, or even attempting the clumsiest high-five two little woollen creatures can muster. It’s full of little moments of joy that are so blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fast that you’ll appreciate them even more when you do spot them.
Oh, and did I mention that you can make your own Yarny? The little guy may be a cutesy little red ball of wool, but it seems having a red guy on a mossy green background is an absolute nightmare for those with color blindness. Well, from the start now you can choose what colour you want your pair of Yarnies to be, and as you progress through the game you’ll unlock further customisation options for new eyes, head shapes and body styles. Chubby, pink, heart-headed Yarny FTW. Most of these adaptations are locked behind the new Challenge modes available in the game, which unlock with each of the main story missions in your central hub (housed within a lighthouse that you’ll slowly restore and fill with life).
Of course, the new focus on playfulness isn’t just about making a pink Yarny or watching the pair flail a high-five. Fall damage is gone now too, as is Yarny’s near-instant drowning the moment he hits an inch of water. Unravel 2 is much more forgiving in terms gameplay, making the entire experience feel less like Limbo and more like Little Big Planet, but much, much prettier.
Like the previous game, Unravel 2 is set in the real world, with the environments you explore based on the adventures the development team had in their own childhoods. Think clambering over rooftops, heading down the local park, discovering a hidden den in an abandoned house or even messing around on unmanned building sites. All the things you’re not meant to do as children, but absolutely still do anyway. Sorry Mum. There’s still a background story too - alongside Yarny’s own discoveries about his purpose and friendship - and in a way there’s still a darkness there. According to ColdWood’s creative director Martin Sahlin, the two children are being chased by their ‘own bad mood’, but it could definitely be read as something with much more malice than a simple case of the Monday Blues.
But aside from some slightly disturbing story imagery, this is definitely a much more positive game full of the cute quirks, but also touches of brilliant that could easily make it one of the best co-op games. It simultaneously channels Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and LittleBigPlanet in terms of tone, but without losing any of that Nordic charm and the photorealism that made the original so great.
And thankfully you don’t even have to wait to check out exactly what I mean, because you download and play it right now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.