Unfortunately that’s a segue to my biggest gripe, which is something I mentioned earlier by way of the game’s purpose and reward system, which is to simply reinvigorate memories for an NPC you really only see once, in a land and featuring people we’ve never met before, or ever probably visited.
It’s all well and good to attempt to tug at heartstrings and take the ‘fun’ out of these types of games, replacing it with emotion, but the two aren’t exclusively disparate. You can have both, which is achieved here, so long as you immediately give up on the basic concept of Yarny’s mission and look specifically at the game as it actually is: a cute side-scrolling physics-based puzzler with amazing visuals. Anything more is more or less a sleight of hand approach to drawing out potential falsehoods in player feedback. The reality is, I don’t know whose memories these are, nor do I care that someone lost a shoe during one of them. A lot of people lose shoes, it doesn’t mean I should base my completion of the level around that.
Specifically, the issue was around intent: why were we, as a sentient piece of wool, doing anything at all. And I stand by that.
So imagine my (not) surprise when Unravel Two opens with Yarny, for some reason, lost out at sea only to wash up on an island with a lighthouse. For no reason. Also, now he has a little blue Yarny friend and they *ahem* dock *ahem* and now they’re, for whatever reason, trying to string together new memories, and unlock paintings to adorn the abandoned lighthouse that is the game’s hub. Because, reasons.
Unravel Two is a fun physics-based side-scrolling ‘platformer’. And the addition of the blue Yarny, as well as co-op through him, or her, is enjoyable, but the team barely capitalises on having to use both for pushing through the environment and when they do, it’s usually elementary. In fact, outside of the game’s Challenge puzzles, which I’ll get to in a minute, Unravel Two is a far less challenging experience overall, especially in comparison to the first game.
What it does incredibly well is deliver an unparalleled visual feast for the type of game it is, while its level pacing and in-level challenges do offer enough room for replayability, but on the surface of it all, Unravel Two is just a bit too fluffy. You have seven chapters of ‘memories’ or ‘events’ to ‘unravel’, but it’s all largely superfluous. There are some new design challenges where traversal is concerned, such as using one Yarny to distract an animal or the new inextricable ‘evil’ whisps, or whatever they are, while the other clears a path. Or where solving a puzzle with one Yarny means you can pull the other to the next vantage or move-on point, but again it’s really very simple, and often the new concepts are flash-in-the-pan. As if they were thought of midway through development and had no room to be added into earlier level-design. The final level of the game introduces us to the double-jump feature, which is awesome, but then when you finish that level, you finish the game. So…
The game’s extra challenge levels, however, are awesome. In fact it’s the best part of the game where both Yarnys work to free trapped Yarnys of different colours from various impediments. This is essentially the proof-of-concept section of the game where perhaps standalone puzzle ideas that didn’t fit the flow of campaign levels survived the cutting room floor and were given a place to live, and thrive. And some of these are incredibly difficult as well. But what they also serve us is a bit of an insight into just how development here was handled: Unravel Two has been designed as a game with an easy entry point -- especially with its new co-op option, but that ease-of-entry never really gets harder. And while co-op is there, it was honestly easier to play on my own. I thought playing alongside my six-year old son would be a great way to review the game, but the puzzles aren’t designed in the same way, say Portal 2’s puzzles were, where cooperative play wasn’t just rewarded, but almost required.
He also smashed through the game solo anyway, and while he is a gun at games, it does speak to the overall design we’re presented with here.
Unravel is trying to do and be too many things at once without wholly expanding on what’s in front it all. And this is a point I brought up in my review of the first game. The puzzles are fun, it’s gorgeous and we love Yarny, but we don’t really care about what he’s doing or why he’s doing it. Unravel would be better served borrowing from the book of Super Meat Boy or the Trials series, where each level, or puzzle, is a self-contained challenge -- some can be strung together to form lengthier levels ala SMB, but the majority of others are just the proof-of-concept challenges already here. More of them equals more fun. I honestly don’t care about the paintings, unlocking them or extrapolating their already heavily on-the-nose narrative tilts, because it’s all redundant when the credits actually roll.
In the grand scheme of pushing a little sentient piece of wool through a level and a number of challenges; memories and what they ambiguously mean to someone who worked on the game, or some ‘highbrow’ lost concept of ‘connection’ is not something that drives me, or many others, through a game. Purpose and reward for effort is what does that, and so far the Unravel series hasn’t unraveled that little design nugget at all.
What we liked
Still an utterly gorgeous game
The extra Challenge levels and in-level challenges for campaign are great