Gaming History 101

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Unravel Two Review

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At E3 2015 a shy developer named Martin Sahlin walked onto the Electronic Arts (EA) stage and announced his passion project Unravel, developed by Coldwood Interactive. This would be the first game to be part of the “EA Originals” program, where EA helps fund small independent game projects and allows the developer to keep all the profits (after repaying the funding and also publishing/marketing budgets). Despite how you personally feel about EA as a company this is proof that sometimes there is heart even in a big corporation like EA. While the internet would take note of the developers nerves and fragile presentation for the time it felt real and it was clear Unravel meant a lot to Sahlin. In all honesty I would struggle to talk in front of a large audience even if it was about something you loved.

Unravel was a cute, puzzle-based platformer where you play a character made out of wire and yarn. The game had beautiful music that moved me in ways that I rarely experience in games. I guess it was made even more unique and special to me because the reception for Unravel wasn’t favourable across the board. My partner loved watching me play Unravel too. I loved Unravel so much that in preparation for my wedding in 2017, I decided to make 112 Yarny dolls myself in accordance with the number of guests attending (another game inspired decorations but that’s a tale for another day). We knew a sequel was on the way, EA had reported it had been successful, and the developers were already at work on it. My partner and I would theorize what the sequel would be like, with the biggest wish on the list being the inclusion of local co-op; this seemed to be the best evolution of the series. E3 2018 rolls around, Unravel Two gets announced, and both my wife and I leaped for joy. Then we leaped a second time because it was revealed the game was available on the day of announcement and includes co-op. I was so eager to purchase the game I refreshed the Xbox One store page six times as well as switching the console on and off again twice just so I could purchase and download it. I rarely get this excited for a game on launch.

Its taken me a while to get to the actual review of Unravel Two, but I felt the above paragraph was important as it discloses how much the original game meant to me and additionally how difficult it was to write the following review.

Unravel Two is a sequel that is mostly more of the same from the original game. Its a 2.5D puzzle platformer with gorgeous environmental graphics where you control a cute Yarny. Unlike the first game instead of playing just one cute Yarny you now get to control two. There’s not much of a story, you are bound to your new co-op Yarny by a strand of yarn. You can use this yarn to your advantage and swing off each other to progress through the stages and solve puzzles. In the background of the levels as you progress you see echoes of two boys interacting with the real world. This style was apparent in the first game following several different characters, but Unravel Two focuses only on these boys. The story is never made entirely clear but more left up to the players own interpretation to figure out.

While the game advertises itself as being a co-op experience you can quite comfortably play the game in single player. With a hold of a button you can “smush” (combine) the Yarnys together and play as one. When the game requires you to solve a puzzle you can break apart and switch between the Yarnys with a single tap. The game feels surprisingly fluid when playing alone. Since the game features two characters one can’t help feeling this is a game that you should play together.

Much like the first game the level graphics mimic the great outdoors in stunning detail. While the Yarnys are clearly artificial they blend quite well into the great outdoors. If this is your first journey into the Unravel universe it may just surprise you the level of detail for an indie title. If you’re returning some areas will look familiar to the first game, I definitely saw that same hedgehog walking in the background at some stage before. The music is once again peaceful and calm until you reach stressful sections where it appropriately builds in tension and then morphs into something of serenity and relief when you complete a level or challenge. Like the graphics this is really more of the same from the first game but the music this time certainly didn’t quite meet the emotional highs for me like it did in the first adventure.  Unlike the first game though, you can now customize your Yarnys by changing the head, eyes, body and of course colour. You can switch these designs at any time in the pause menu. Just be sure to choose separate colours when playing co op otherwise you may get a little confused who you’re controlling.

Co-op (local only, no online) is where things become quite critical. While the game is functional when playing together the game has moments where things can get tricky depending on the skill level of each player. Someone who plays far too many video games and has plenty of experience playing challenging platformers will have no trouble traversing the games stressful sections. For a player that is less experienced or is just looking to have a relaxing time will struggle at the game’s more challenging segments. When these two gaming personalities collide Unravel Two becomes a stressful experience. If one Yarny perishes its back to the start of a checkpoint for both characters. This difficulty was also very apparent in the first game, but it just doesn’t appear to fit with this co-op style of game. What I found perplexing is Unravel as a series would probably suit a gamer who enjoys challenging platformers, but since Unravel’s appearance is cute and cuddly it’s unlikely they will experience it. Unravel Two is at its most enjoyable co-op when you are talking through a puzzle together. When your frantically trying to dodge frustrating death traps and black baddies it devolves into Mario Kart levels of swearing. Unravel as a series can’t seem to decide what it wants to be still. There are plenty of moments where your casually solving puzzles at a pleasant pace only for the game to suddenly ramp up the difficulty curve. Some sections you’ll be avoiding one hit kill death traps while essentially guessing how to proceed. It feels like one of those “guess what I’m thinking” moments from a developer which would work fine if the game was focused on this theme. But it just doesn’t gel with the relaxing segments. The game does incorporate a hint system and even the ability to slow the action down at the touch of a button. While the slow motion can help with the games stressful sections it does cause a collision playing in co-op.

The overall game will take you around eight hours to complete. There are seven main levels these levels can be replayed for time challenges, no death medals and to find collectibles but I didn’t find myself keen to replay due to the absurd spike in difficulty during the levels. The game also features 20 smaller challenge levels which by completing will unlock cosmetic features for your Yarny. It’s a shame these unlockables are tied to these challenges which are by far the most frustrating sections of the game. Once I finished Unravel Two I didn’t find a need to replay the levels solo or co-op.

Unravel Two is fine. It’s more of the same from the first game but the game fails to really evolve from the prior formula which worked so well for me. The message I took myself from the first game was “through great hardships one can make it through,” this message appears to be the same in this game but just not as effective. The co-op, while a nice addition, fails to flow well. The game in co-op is most rewarding in the casual puzzle segments where you and a buddy figure out how to progress at your own pace. The co op really falls apart in frantic moments where there are one hit deaths hazards littered around the area. This design is most prominent in the challenge sections which feel much more single player focused as opposed to co op. Its such a shame too as I was incredibly excited to play this game and it always great to see more games add co-op. However, co-op is more complex than I think some developers think. The game is not unplayable together but to make a memorable co op based game it takes care and attention to different play styles.

Unravel Two plays it safe. The game is fun but a frustrating platformer. If you weren’t sold on the first game this is unlikely going to sell you on the series. The co-op fails to really evolve the formula from the first game. I love the appearance and message Unravel tries to portray as an indie title but I just wish its bonds were stronger.

Final Score: 2.5 out of 5

No review code was provided.  Unravel Two is available on PC (Origin), Playstation 4, and Xbox One for an initial price of $19.99.  It took the reviewer approximately 8 hours to complete for a total play time of 16 hours and was reviewed on the Xbox One.  

Written by jamalais

July 5, 2018 at 11:00 am

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