Josef Fares has a big mouth, as we found out at The Game Awards back in 2017, but he also has a big heart and imagination. It’s impossible to miss that with him being behind hits such as Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons and A Way Out. His and Hazelight’s efforts (his studio founded after Brothers released through Starbreeze) are thoroughly appreciated, and their dedication to making something unique every time they start to code has certainly made an impression on critics, consumers, and corporate alike, as EA continues to invest into their work. It Takes Two may be the largest creation yet by the indie studio, and it’s a journey I’m excited to be able to tell you all about.
Let’s start off talking about how impressively beautiful the game looks. Every title has its own look and feel, but It Takes Two has a shine to it few indies manage. This is nearly a triple A title as far as graphics go, and while those are only a part of the formula it does enhance the experience. Everything from the foliage of the Tree chapter, to the mattresses and pillows of Rose’s Room, to the winter wonderland of the snowglobe level looks amazing and features an incredible level of detail. There are a ton of different environments in this game, as mentioned in the previous sentence, and each one has as much care administered to it as the last. The characters themselves are immensely detailed, and May is one of my favorite models with her blue yarn hair and wooden figure crafted exquisitely.
Now, while it’s all good for a game to look pretty, it has to play well, and that’s where It Takes Two takes the cake. This is an exclusively co-op game, like its predecessor A Way Out, and with that design choice comes a ton of unique gameplay mechanics. Some teams could simply phone it in and just leave you to play and do the exact same things as your partner, but Hazelight went above and beyond to make something that separates itself from the competition. I’m not just saying that either, I’ve legitimately never played anything like what I’m experiencing from It Takes Two.
From the very beginning you’re introduced to classic platforming mechanics, running and jumping around an area that feels ripped from Honey I Shrunk The Kids (most of the game world actually reminds me of that movie, now that I think of it). There are plenty of moments here where co-op is required, like pulling levers together and separately, or one aiming a vacuum hose end so the other can be launched in the correct direction in order to progress. But it’s once you get past the initial boss that gear and mechanics specific to each location comes into play. These not only to help you move forward, but can even be used in an engaging way in the combat and boss battles. I don’t want to spoil too much in describing all of them, as in my mind it’s the main hook of the game, but just the fact that each area leaves you with new tools to explore and learn is amazing and quite the idea.
I will talk about two of my favorites, which reside in The Tree chapter, the Tree Sap Habschaiki 57 and the DrillBazzer X200. Those words mean nothing to you, but essentially the “57” (as we’ll call it) shoots tree sap, and the X200 fires lit matches. When you use these together, you get explosions which you can use to attack, as well as make your way through different puzzles. While covering a wasp in tree sap and watching it detonate when hit by a fiery match is fun, just as exhilarating was figuring out to use the sap to weigh down platforms so my partner could make it through, as well as filling an iron stove with sap and then jumping on the smoke pipe lid in order to be launched up high to the next platform when my companion shot the sap.
I brought up gameplay being the hook of It Takes Two, and while the story is great, the shining essence of the game is in how you play it. I’m a bit annoyed I have to find a partner to play it, given how fun it is, but if not for a partner quite a bit of this wouldn’t work. Besides the required coop elements, it really plays into the discovery of gameplay mechanics and how much enjoyment there is in sharing that with someone else. This could be similar to the effect I get going to a big movie and enjoying it with the crowd, as Endgame was incredible to watch on day one, but the experience was made by the crowd reacting around me and to me. Sharing is caring, and I feel like I care just a little more about It Takes Two because I’m able to enjoy it with someone else.
This also makes its way into the many puzzle portions of the game. Being a platformer you’d assume these would be present, but It Takes Two meshes its coop elements into the puzzles as well. For instance, I had to work with my companion to move through a toy section by using a large dinosaur toy while my partner operated a smaller one. My job was to move blocks, while theirs was to use their ability to flip them around so I could grab the handles.This is a very basic explanation of what’s going on as you play, but it’s extremely satisfying to figure each of these portions out.
As for the story, it finds a way to be compelling even while taking a backseat to the gameplay. Rose, the daughter of your characters May and Cody, is having to deal with her parents and their constant fighting. May is the breadwinner of the family, and as such is never at home, while Cody is a stay at home dad who has no sense of time. Both have agreed a divorce is for the best, but Rose isn’t willing to let that happen. She’s bought a book, Dr. Hakim’s Book Of Love, and while crying in the shed over what she knows is her parents about to inform her of the divorce, she inadvertently sheds tears on little dolls she’s made of Cody and May, thus magically transforming them into said characters.
While it’s an odd premise to build a game on, it also manages to tiptoe the line of disturbing and comedic at the same time. The book becomes a living character with an annoying accent and constantly frustrates you at every term, but you can’t help but laugh at the writing behind his lines. Cody and May tend to follow the same prerogative, with plenty of laughs from their dialogue, but a lot of frustration in their choices. These two, especially at the beginning, have completely given up on working together, and while that’s intentional of the writing and is done to great aplomb it’s still bothersome. I mean, they are terrible parents. It does get better (as one would hope), and includes some really beautiful moments, but the first half of the game has some spots that will make you uncomfortable. Once again, this is to make you think rather than just being mindless drivel, so it gets a pass, but a scene with a certain elephant (you’ll know what I mean when you play it) was somewhat agonizing for both my companion and myself.
One thing with the story that is both a benefit, yet for some an inconvenience for the game is the length of it. I’m not here to tell you all games have to fit a specific mode when it comes to timeframes, but It Takes Two clocks in as long as fifteen hours. I’m totally nitpicking when it comes to this, but it’s hard enough for me to find someone to play with for an hour with a coop game, let alone fifteen of them. A Way Out came in at about six hours, so it was simple enough to play in one or two sessions with a friend. With It Takes Two, you’re more likely to be playing with them for a week or so, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing given how deep some of these story sections hit having to stop playing because your friend needs to get to bed could dampen the plot for some.
Editor David Flynn here to talk about playing co-op using the Trial mode. First off, it’s incredibly generous and convenient to be able to play through the entire game while only one of us owns a copy. Just download the demo, accept an invite, and you’re off to the races. The only thing you don’t get out of this are trophies, and while I don’t care about those I am thinking of purchasing the game myself just to play it again with other people. I’m a huge fan of platformers and “other David” plays a lot of shooters, so our playstyles as May and Cody respectively complimented each other well. We did run into a few bugs throughout our playthrough though, like the other character clipping through the ground only on one screen or the audio cutting out for a second or two randomly. I wasn’t a big fan of the overall story and felt some of the darker themes clashed poorly with the lighter tone of the gameplay. Still, it’s a very good game that I’ll play more than a few times just like A Way Out.
It Takes Two
It Takes Two is one of the most unique games I’ve played in a long time. The heartfelt story can be really dark at times, but does it’s job to reinforce the narrative. There aren’t many co-op games on the market, and none of them do what It Takes Two does, with each bit of the platforming gameplay being tons of fun and adding enjoyable new techniques as you make your way through each level. It may be tough to lock someone down for fifteen hours to play it, and even then I feel like I’m reaching for this as a con, but if you find someone that wants to play It Takes Two with, you probably won’t want to put down the controller.