As we cross the one year anniversary mark of the United Kingdom’s lockdown, co-operative tasks aren't something that I’ve had much success in partaking in. With that being the case, I decided to dust off the old team-work skill set and alongside my best friend/ex-wife/enemy/colleague (circle applicable word), Danielle, tackle the crazy world of It Takes Two.
It Takes Two is created by Josef Fares and the team at Hazelight Studio, a combination who had previously worked together on A Way Out. The concept of It Takes Two is similar, focusing on multiplayer co-operation, allowing two players to work through the game’s campaign together. Unlike its gritty predecessor, It Takes Two is an explosion of creativity, colourful level design and an emotional rollercoaster of a story.
You and your gaming companion are tasked with leading Cody and May on an adventure to return to their bodies - and save their marriage. Having become cursed after upsetting their daughter with the news of the separation, the unhappily married couple are forced to live life as dolls, hand-crafted by their daughter, Rose. With Cody playing the role of the podgy looking clay toy and May living her life as a stylish set of twigs. The pair are forced to work together to get back to Rose, and their bodies, with a persistent book of love ensuring the pair have bonded significantly enough.
What blew me away most about It Takes Two was just how inventive each level's design was. For the most part, and there are exceptions to this, it was mostly a realistic take, with a little cartoonish flair, of the general environment around the couples home. Taking advantage of everything from their shed, from the tree in their garden to a snowglobe in their hallway. There’s a great variety of levels, that are all well-crafted whilst still making sense in regards to what you would expect to find in the usual family home. How far the team at Hazelight Studio pushes the boundaries of imagination when re-creating these usually mundane environments that we see every day is staggering. Every new area I entered, I wondered what could they really squeeze out of such a basic area and an hour later I’d be floored by it. The level design is fantastic, and it really delivers a magical feeling on the scale of games like Super Mario Odyssey.
It Takes Two benefits massively from how unique each chapter feels to play. Yes, they’re all gorgeously designed visually, but the technical design is even greater. For most games, you progress and unlock cool new gadgets throughout the campaign. It Takes Two shakes things up every time, removing abilities and adding new ones per each stage. For each stage, the new ability you receive always feels tight to control and makes sense given the context of the stage you are in. What makes them great is, much like the design of each chapter, the simplicity. There’s no reliance on complicated mechanics, rather just a refinement of what you have been given. Cody and May always receive separate skills, meaning the players have to cooperate well together. Which always feels good because the skill sets each are given always entwine smoothly with one another. Most importantly, there’s never a point where you feel one character gets regularly superior powers or skills. It feels fairly balanced, meaning you don’t miss out on the cool stuff if you play a certain role for the game’s entirety.
Of course, those powers would be nothing without the game's core gameplay loop. At its foundation, It Takes Two is a well-crafted platformer. Moving around each chapter is a blast, balanced in its tight platforming and weight behind controlling Cody and May. The game also offers several respites from the cooperative, narrative-based action in the form of head-to-head mini. Most of which are hidden deep throughout the game's stages. Generally, the mini games are well made, giving the game a competitive edge, with a score being kept in the pre-game menu. A couple of the games are one-sided to either Cody or May (Whack-A-Cody mainly), but it never takes fun away from the overall experience.
Even if the gameplay doesn’t blow you away, you’ll be suckered in by the characters - especially the two protagonists. Cody and May are a couple on the brink of divorce, and for long stretches it really does feel that way. Their interactions with one another, the uneasy teamwork, refusing to accept blame for both past and current mistakes. Our heroes feel very real, and their crumbling relationship is well represented in their child, Rose, suffering the consequences silently. Those characters, and their heartbreaking realism, contrast beautifully with the wacky world the game takes place in. Creatively, it’s a masterful combination.
Taking focus away from the main characters, a lot of the side characters provide plenty of laughs. From a gyrating love book to a warmongering squirrel. Those side characters do a great job providing comic relief in a game that handles quite a serious topic at its core. These side characters may not play a pivotal role in the game's narrative, but they are vital to the flow of the game's narrative.
It Takes Two is a fantastic refinement of Hazelight’s dedication to multiplayer games. That dedication really shines here, as that commitment to cooperative gameplay gives both players a more fluid experience. Both parties, whether playing remotely or on a couch will have a blast with this, and the journey through some of gaming's most creative levels is fun for anyone who takes part.
It Takes Two (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
A fantastic cooperative experience that hits positive notes throughout its entire journey, It Takes Two is the magnum opus for a studio that seems to keep getting better and better.