If video games have taught us anything over the years, it’s that adventures are always better when undertaken with a friend. Experiencing a challenging mission for the first time. Overcoming a boss with hard-fought teamwork. Solving a puzzle at the exact same moment. Co-op can often give us some of gaming’s most meaningful moments. That sentiment must have been in the mind of Swedish developer Coldwood Interactive when it began working on the sequel to heartfelt platformer Unravel, because it really shows.
Unravel Two is very much an iterative sequel. That's not meant as a negative, but rather that its developer knows what made the first game so charming and simply doubles down on those unique qualities. Once again, you control a miniature woollen hero called Yarny, who travels on a 2.5D adventure using his own yarn-based string to swing across gaps, pull down objects to reveal new paths and scale seemingly insurmountable heights. You’ll still be using picture frames as gateways to new levels (this time contained within a central hub based in a lighthouse), only now there are new memories to explore. This time, however, Yarny is joined by a blue-coloured friend, leading to levels filled with environmental and platforming puzzles that call for the two woollen pals to work together.
Much like the first game, Unravel Two’s story avoids being overly explicit, instead using simple and often metaphorical themes to guide you through a whole host of levels inspired by the Swedish countryside and a variety of inner-city locales. With composers Frida Johansson and Henrik Oja returning to pen the score, you’re left with a gaming experience that rarely rushes or stresses you. It’s a chilled and charming puzzle-platformer willing to tell stories of sadness and joy at its own pace. In that way, it’s similar to the sedate cooperative world of Journey.
With the ability to control two different Yarnys this time around, something as simple as reaching a new platform requires you to deploy a constant use of teamwork. Both characters are connected by their yarn, so while you can still swing using your string, you can also use one another as an anchor point to reach seemingly unreachable platforms across far greater distances. So once one player has reached said high point, the other can use their position to ascend a cliff face by climbing their own yarn to the very top. You can once again use your yarn to fashion a bridge or trampoline between two points, and you can now increase the height of each jump by doubling up your yarn.
It’s designed in such a way that many of Unravel Two’s platforming puzzles can be beaten by a single player, so if you are playing cooperatively with a younger or less experienced pal, one of you can reach the required point on screen while the other uses your position as a handy anchor point to join you. As the game progresses and you move through each chapter, that need for tandem problem-solving increases, but every time you crack how to move a certain piece of scenery out of the way or use your yarn as a makeshift bridge or trampoline, the sense of achievement becomes all the more potent because you achieved it together.
It should be noted that while it's being sold on the enjoyment of its local co-op, Unravel Two is brilliant fun from beginning to end when played on your own. You can only move one character at a time – enabling you to place on a seesaw to weight one side down, or to create a lift by leaping over a hook – but you just need to hold ‘X’ when both are next to one another to combine them together into one multi-coloured Yarny. There are benefits and drawbacks to playing solo or co-op – for instance, getting your swings in sync when trying to leap between swing points can be a challenge in co-op, while solving certain puzzles takes a little longer in single-player – but both remain solid ways to play in their own right.
Despite taking an extra nine months of development, Unravel Two proves to be well worth the wait. A visual downgrade is certainly in effect – as you’d probably expect, given that this is one of the most aesthetically-pleasing home console games of E3 2018 running on Nintendo Switch – so you’ll notice the occasional bit of blurring in the background, rasterized assets here and there and the odd bit of interactive scenery disappearing as soon as its role in an environmental puzzle has been played out. Coldwood Interactive has clearly used every trick it can to get Unravel Two running smoothly on Switch’s hardware, and it has pulled it off.
Loading times can sometimes overstay their welcome and some of the game’s absolutely gorgeous dynamically-lit moments do lose some of their visual magic, but Unravel Two is still a beautiful game to play on Nintendo hardware. Even with two players attempting to solve multiple parts of a puzzle while swinging about the shop, we never experienced a single second of framerate reduction or slowdown. It’s another confident reminder that Switch has the potential to run so many different types of game when they’re given the right amount of time, care and optimisation.
Unravel Two was already a wonderful little game, filled with heartfelt moments of poignant storytelling and challenging platforming puzzles, and now it has a fitting new home on Nintendo Switch. Even with a few downgrades to the visuals, Unravel Two is far from an inferior experience when played on Nintendo's hybrid system. Full of charm and character, it’s one of the best co-operative platformers you can play anywhere, and another robust Switch port that was well worth the wait.