Between the blockbusting AAA shooters and yearly line up of sports games, EA Originals has found a pleasant niche within the publishers line up. There’s a distinctly Swedish flavour to the programme thus far, with Unravel (technically a predecessor to the programme), A Way Out and Fe all coming from Swedish developers. Nothing has changed about that with this year’s Originals announcement, with Coldwood Interactive returning with Unravel Two and more Yarnys than you can shake a stick at. Oh, and it’s out today!
Where the first game was a rather isolated, lonely story of loss and love, of memories that took you to various Swedish environments, Unravel Two is more about kindling a new relationship, of finding joy and companionship.
Sitting alongside and playing the game with Coldwood’s Martin Sahlin, he said, “What we were going for, instead of being stuck to the past and instead of making this very sentimental game, we wanted to make a game about starting over and essentially making something new. A lot of the old game was about old age, old love and old wounds, but we figured that we’d just do the exact opposite this time around and focus on youth and new things and just building instead of mapping the past.
“The whole game is played with two characters. It’s all about crafting that new bond and trying to keep up with the spark that you lost. It’s essentially like being friends with yourself, I guess?” he laughed.
Whether you play solo or in co-op, there are two Yarnys on screen at all times, bound together by their trailing yarns in a newfound friendship at the start of the game – it did remind me a little bit of Avatar as they did so. The yarn is still at the heart of many of the game’s puzzles, but having two connected Yarnys adds a new dimension to how the game plays. If in solo, you’ll often be merging the two Yarnys into one, ending up with a nice irregularly striped hybrid as you run around, and while co-op players will typically be exploring the levels alongside each other, you can still combine them and hand control over to one or the other.
“That yarn between you kind of becomes your lifeline,” Martin said, “so you’ll be climbing from each other or swinging from each other, things like that. The other character is essentially your anchor and so wherever you put them, that’s a safe spot for you to return to and you can always come back to.
“There’s some symbolism in that, but also it’s just very convenient and fun to play with. I think that was a very big focus for us this time around, to make it more fun to play. It’s not the same sentimental experience as it was the first time, but I think ‘joyous’ is the word we ended up on? It’s about just having lots of fun together and doing some dangerous and occasionally exciting things.”
One nice touch is that Yarny is now quite customisable. You can pick a different colour of yarn, a different head shape and different eyes for the little guys, and this then defines how the combined characters look in the game. Asking Martin for his favourite colour combos, he said, “I like making it a little bit tricky, so I like to pick the darker colours so all the interface things like the markers that show you the lasso range become a bit more subtle and discrete. That’s why I like the greys, because that makes the game look the cleanest, like a grey and an orange, maybe?”
Many of the puzzles require both Yarnys to work together. Getting around often relies on the players leapfrogging past each other, using one Yarny as a point from which the other can swing to gain momentum, pushing things around so that one of you can get up to higher places and so on. It feels natural and fluid to work together like this, though I suspect it will feel noticeably more methodical when playing solo, as you move one yarny, switch and then move the other. You’re not doing anything fundamentally different, but the atmosphere will shift.
The early parts of the game gradually build up these new gameplay ideas alongside reintroducing old ones. Martin chuckles as he says that they’ve kept the idea of using yarn bridges to push things across down to a minimum, with just two instances in the game, but you’ll be using these yarn bridges to pull down and then launch your Yarny higher, and there are other forms of physics-based puzzles. On the whole, Coldwood have tried to tighten up the controls, making it more game-like in how it feels to play.
Martin explained, “One of the feelings that we wanted to get across is that you’re a much more capable character this time around. Instead of being like old and frail and weak, you’re actually quite strong in your way. That’s why you run a little faster, you jump a little higher and your swing is a little more powerful, I guess. It’s still not a power fantasy – you’re still a little yarn dude – but you’re much more agile.”
Much like in the first game, your adventures with Yarny occasionally tie in with the real world and human characters and experiences. They certainly seem to have a more youthful slant in this game, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have the same kinds of drama as the original. One early example depicts someone running into their bedroom and holding the door closed as someone bangs loudly on it. Meanwhile in the foreground, the two Yarnys shift a box back and forth in order to reach the spark that has split apart, before escaping out the window and onto the rooftops.
“There is a little bit of a parallel story in this game as well, like with the memories that you were collecting in the previous game,” Martin explained, “but we tried to expand on it a little bit. We made it more alive, so they’re able to move and change the state of the world, and you can change the state of their world. You can help each other out. The idea is essentially that people are haunted by bad moods, bad emotions, and when the moment gets shitty, the little spark that you’re chasing splits into two parts and you have to put it back together again.”
While the main game’s levels are designed to be a little easier and without some of the difficulty spikes of the original, partly through the co-op and partly through having a three stage hint system to try and nudge you along, there are further challenge levels that aim to push your reflexes and platforming skills or test your mental acuity in untangling some devious puzzles. The former certainly have a kind of one more go vibe to them, even in co-op where you have twice as much chance to miss a grappling point, falling and causing you both to fail, while the latter had Martin and I gradually working out the switches to pull and in which order to move different parts of a level around. It’s here that two heads are almost certainly better than one.
Though the game feels a little lighter tonally, there’s still a fairly cold, Scandinavian aesthetic. Washing up on the rocky island of a lighthouse at the start of the game, you’re again presented with a hub world to explore and open up bit by bit, revealing new areas and levels to play, and gradually becoming a home for a little multicoloured colony of Yarnys. However, it still has a decaying, industrial look to it and you’ll be playing through a mixture of the Swedish countryside and cities, from dark caves to rainy city streets and beyond. It’s something that does, perhaps, sit at odds with the intention of making something more overtly fun to then have such cool and cold environments, but it’s more important for that to come across in the gameplay.
“I think it’s the gameplay that [makes the game lighter],” Martin said, “like how you’re constantly saving each other, helping each other and sometimes messing with each other! Whenever we have testers in the office, there’s always cheering and laughing. People are just having audible fun, so I think that’s where the lighter tone comes from.”
After the very positive reception that the first game received, Unravel Two is a pleasant surprise that looks to retain that core spirit, but explore different emotions. It’s more playful, and with co-op at its heart, you can share that playfulness with others.