My children are on summer break right now, so I happily dragooned them into helping me play through Unravel 2. Although I could have played on my own, this is a co-op game, best played in the company of another.
Each of my three kids took turns partnering with me as we worked through puzzles and platform levels. I felt that we connected nicely through the game, learning and acknowledging each other’s strengths and weaknesses, evening out frustrations with one another. That’s the essence of co-op. It’s about how a game connects people, how it requires us to learn how to better operate in harmony.
Of course, I often cooperate with my kids. But the activity in question is often homework or a household chore. In these areas, I’m assumed to be the dominant figure, the one who knows, guides and teaches. But in the context of a game like Unravel 2, we are equals who can learn from one another.
The original Unravel starred a little character made from red yarn. Yarny, as it’s called, used the thread of its own body to overcome obstacles. It swung and rappelled. It tied knots to make bridges and trampolines. It looped objects to move them, or to create leverage.
Unravel 2’s physical tools remain much the same as the original, except this time, we play as two little Yarnys. Connected by a thread, we must help one another progress. One of us acts as an anchor, pulling the other up a cliff face. The two of us hang from a branch, creating a long swing that reaches to a connection point. We serve as counterweights to one another, or we work together to operate a piece of machinery.
Swedish developer Coldwood Interactive has populated seven levels with two-player puzzles that require real teamwork. While I’m anchoring my partner, she is trying to create the correct swing momentum, but it’s me who has to time the release so she makes the jump. There’s a lot of chatter between us during the game, such as “now ... go now ... no, wait .. pull me up and try again.”
After a while, it becomes clear which partner is best suited for particular puzzles. My kids tended to take the driver’s seat for obstacles that required multiple jumps and tricky controller manipulation. But I took over for anything that required patience. My kids are not as good as me at quietly working through puzzles involving complicated machinery, but they’re better at spotting on-screen clues that I miss.
This creates a warmth between us, an acknowledgment of differences. It’s nice to be placed into a fantasy world where I’m constantly complimenting my kids, without it feeling like that most dreadful activity: earnest parenting.
Unravel 2 is also a useful reminder of the pointlessness of getting frustrated or impatient with children, a failure that affects all but the most saintly adults. Playing this game, I measured my success less by puzzles solved, and more by my ability to wait patiently while my kids learned what they had to do.
This isn’t to say we all worked harmoniously throughout the game. There are plenty of opportunities in Unravel 2 for a tight gritting of teeth, especially as the difficulty level sharply rises toward the end of the game. But mostly, our disagreements were of the fun sort, in which we argued about who was best at this or that, and who should take the lead.
There are moments when Unravel 2 unintentionally becomes a competitive co-op game, as players try to outdo one another creating graceful swings, or take turns defeating a tricky section. It’s all great fun.
The two-player sections are interspersed with some that, frankly, are best handled by one. The two Yarnys are able to merge into one. This is especially useful for platform areas, which require perfect timing and placement. The ability is a boon if one of the players is a younger child who needs a little help. When I played, there were times when my youngest child wandered off while I worked to get through a tough section, ambling back when we were ready to proceed as a duo.
As with the first game, Coldwood has created a sparkling world of northern European forests, rivers and glades. But there’s also a greater variety of backdrops that conjure the gardens of suburbia, or the rooftops of rainy towns. There’s a backstory going on here, too, of childhood, friendship and the desire to grow up, to move on. But while this plays out in ghostly background vignettes, the real drama is in the world’s natural detail, from damp moss to burning oaks.
Unravel 2 is essentially a two-player version of the original, with an added emphasis on tricky platforming. The puzzles can sometimes feel like they’re cut from a relatively limited template, but the game manages to avoid overstaying its welcome. Smartly, Coldwood added a series of extra difficult mini-levels for those who want to stretch their legs after the narrative is completed.
If you’re looking for a game to enjoy with the people you care about, I’m happy to recommend Unravel 2. It’s an agreeable, friendly, sometimes challenging world that encourages us to be the best version of ourselves.
The words I found myself saying the most during the playthrough were “I’ve got you,” meaning, I have made arrangements so that you are safe to proceed. Is there a better definition of being a parent?
Unravel 2 was reviewed using a final “retail” PlayStation 4 download code provided by Electronic Arts. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.