STAFF REVIEW of Unravel Two (Xbox One)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Unravel Two Box art During the winter of 2016, Electronic Arts used its resources to help a small Swedish developer release its passion project. The result was the rather well reviewed and received Unravel, which stole the hearts of those who gave it a chance. It did this with colourful visuals, a heartwarming story, a rather ingenious main character and some challenging, impressive and family friendly mechanics.

Now, more than two years later, we’ve seen the release of the game’s sequel: Unravel Two. A follow-up that was revealed during the other week’s E3 2018 expo, and was released later that very same day for approximately $20. Something different, too, being that this is now a cooperative experience as opposed to something that is strictly for solo players.

Whereas the first game focused upon a single, yarn-based character named Yarny, who originated out of an old lady’s wayward ball of red yarn, its sequel features two of the threaded creatures. Small, colour coded and without any sort of vocal skills, they must work together to solve puzzles, avoid dangerous hazards and traverse varied environments, as a story plays out around them.

Unlike that which preceded it, Unravel Two’s storyline is threadbare and confusing. It begins with kids hiding from others, then morphs into a visual representation of their escape from danger, all of which is told sporadically over the course of the game’s four to five hour campaign. As before, you’ll see ghosted replays of the characters, their efforts and their struggles play out in the background as you try to get around in the foreground. Sometimes things slow down when these apparitions appear, but that’s not always the case.

Although I paid close attention to what was happening during each of the aforementioned segments, it was hard to tell exactly what was going on. It’s possible that the kids (perhaps even teenagers) were running from someone abusive, but a lack of depth and visual cues prevented me from knowing for sure. As such, the storyline really lacked impact and left me disappointed. I have a sentimental attachment to the first game and was hoping for more from this one as a result.

The theme of this game – as mentioned during its E3 appearance, and made evident throughout the campaign – is to follow one’s spark. That is quite apparent, since ‘checkpoints’ are identified by a spark that flies through each environment, leads you to where you need to go and then stops and waits for you to solve the puzzle that will allow you to get to its resting spot. This is concluded with a text-based message that appears before the credits roll, which talks about being true to oneself, appreciating one's value and always understanding that it's possible to begin anew.

While the above is a good message, the story that it’s supposed to be found inside of isn’t told well and is hard to really understand outside of the obvious. You’ll see the kids running from something over and over again, but won’t know much in the way of details or backstory. The first game handled its story well, but its sequel struggles in this regard.

Unravel Two plays out over seven different levels, each of which takes place in a different location, with examples being a well, a burning forest, a small lake and an industrial park. All of these levels can be accessed at will after the game is completed, and are ventured to through portals found inside of a lighthouse that acts as your main hub. There, you’ll also find around twenty different ‘bonus levels,’ which are standalone puzzles based on elements from each of the seven stages. These are unlocked upon the completion of each level, and awards (no deaths, completion within par time and metallic medals) are awarded at the same time to promote replayability.

While all of these environments look quite nice, feature rich colour palettes and are impressively realistic, some of them tend to be quite overlong and can get tedious after a while. Some feature too many similar puzzles, while others just tend to drag. Not all, though. Certain stages are better designed and paced than others.

By now you’re surely wondering how introducing co-op into a cinematic, puzzle/platforming series like Unravel works. Well, it plays as you’ve probably imagined.

The very obvious idea at play here is that one player will control the first Yarny, while the other will control his new friend, who he meets on a beach after falling off of a ship at the beginning of the campaign. Both of these customizable avatars are, unsurprisingly, bound together by a piece of yarn, allowing them to remain close to each other. This means that if one Yarny is on a high ledge, the other can simply climb said string to get to his partner’s location. Furthermore, the two can combine (through what the developers call carrying, but it’s more like blending together) to create one slightly larger doll.

It’s been said that Unravel Two is more of a platformer as the result of this addition and change, and that’s pretty true. Still, there’s lots of puzzle-based gameplay to sink one’s teeth into. The inclusion of a second player changes them up quite a bit, though, because you’re not just dealing with one avatar and a tail of yarn that varies in length. Thus, very few puzzles deal with the amount of yarn that one has at his disposal, because that never changes and you won’t pick up extensions like you did in the first game. No, these puzzles are focused more on teamwork and combined physics than anything else.

As mentioned above, there are lots of segments where you’ll have to split into two and control each Yarny separately (if playing alone) or work as a team to solve puzzles using the string that combines you. This often means moving objects, then swinging or jumping onto ledges, before wrapping your yarn around an object and going back to help the other guy. That or climbing (which Yarny can now do at certain times), tying knots on two nearby posts to create trampolines, or swinging from your partner to reach distant locations.

Of course, hazards are common, and they get more severe as the game progresses. In later levels, you’ll have to avoid fire as one character hangs from another and adjusts the length of his tether as he’s pulled from side to side, or swing past flaming obstacles. Other hazards include a fish who – for some reason – wants to eat yarn, a bird who also has a strange appetite, a forest fire and weird enemies who can both patrol and chase. They’re tough to describe because all they really look like are small, shadowy lines with flaming tips. Then again, I guess you could say that they’re like Mario’s boo ghosts, because some only move when they sense or see you and remain dormant or asleep when they don’t.

For the most part, this all works pretty well. Unravel Two may not be as tight, balanced or polished as its predecessor was, but it offers some decent puzzling. Those who are good at the genre may feel disappointed, though, because this is a rather easy game that doesn’t exactly think too far outside of the box. Lots of the puzzles have an “I’ve seen that before” feeling to them, and most are quite easy. The game also offers three hints for almost all of its brain teasers, with the last one laying out step-by-step directions as to how to get by. You can also slow things down using 'slow motion,' but I never found that to be helpful in any sort of way.

It’s in its presentation facets where this game is at its best, thanks to some rich and impressive visuals, as well as some commendable art direction. The music stands out most, however, thanks to a haunting orchestral score and a great (Swedish?) song with vocals that plays during the final stage. As such, the score was easily my favourite part of this experience.

Overall, Unravel Two is both decent and somewhat disappointing at the same time. There’s some magic missing, for sure, and a threadbare and confusing storyline doesn't help matters. Still, this is a game that is worth playing for anyone who enjoys the genre, especially those who have a friend who can play local co-op (since the game is strangely devoid of online co-op capabilities).

**This review is based on the Xbox One X enhanced version of the game, which we were provided with.**

Overall: 6.3 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.2 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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