It Takes Two is the latest video game developed by Hazelight and directed by the ever-charismatic Josef Fares, yes, the “F*** the Oscars” guy. It is a fully co-op 3D platformer at heart. Here, I mean true co-op, not simply playing alongside another player, you are actively working together (or against each other) at every turn, and every single stage is designed around that back and forth.
When purchasing ITT, you effectively buy two copies, one for you, one for a friend which can be redeemed via an online code. Alternatively, the whole thing can be played fully locally, and this is what I would recommend, my girlfriend and I had a blast and a lot of that was thanks to being able to communicate/trash talk effectively, unhindered by lag. This being said, I can’t vouch for the online capabilities here.
In a time of COVID, this type of game might be just what we need. It certainly helped fill 11 extra hours of lockdown with a wholly unique experience that takes everything that we love about cooperative games, injects them with fun ideas, whilst extracting frustration through generous checkpointing and tight controls.
In It Takes Two, you take control of either May or Cody, one half of a struggling couple who are currently negotiating a divorce. When this is overheard by your daughter Rose, she unknowingly casts a spell which traps you inside the body of two of her toys. The goal is simple; find a way to break the curse and return to your normal, human bodies. It is effectively a romantic comedy video game, think Honey I Shrunk the Kids crossed with The Parent Trap, crossed with… Erm, What Happens in Vegas starring Ashton Kutcher. As with all relationships, it isn’t about the destination, it is about the journey and how you persevere through hardships to reach your goal, together.
The story of Cody and May is not particularly ground-breaking, but it is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, even if their bickering between one another can become a bit tiresome, especially in the early stages. As you work your way out of your garden shed in the first level you discover Dr. Hakim, a Mexican love guru who is there to guide you along your journey and help you rekindle the love between Cody and May. I have heard a lot of negative things about this character, and while he isn’t overly well written, nor is his character design appealing to me, he was alright. Each appearance from him usually brings along a new area or new gameplay gimmick, so seeing him show up was always exciting for me. Side note: each time he enters or leaves a scene there is an acoustic guitar strum, which is just a nice touch and I dig it.
Love is war
As I mentioned, at heart, this is a 3D platformer – and a dang good one at that. You have all the usual moves you’d expect, a double jump, dash, ground pound, you know the drill. What is great about this though is that it feels fantastic, the control here is enough to rival the likes of best-in-class platformers here like Crash Bandicoot 4. Granted, the level of precision needed here compared to Crash is far lower but I honestly believe that this could hold up was the challenge to be raised even a little higher.
On the point of difficulty, this is certainly a little on the easier side for any seasoned gamers, however the lower difficulty and subsequent barrier to entry means that you can introduce this title to even less experienced players and they should still be able to have a ball. This lower difficulty level helps ITT focus on what really matters here, the communication between you and your partner. Not only that, but the generous checkpointing gives the opportunity to take more chances, explore together and potentially drop your trusting partner into a blender when the opportunity arises.
This level of focus from the developers also means that staples within modern games are also able to be forgone. You will find no collectibles, no checklists, no busy work. When you buy ITT, you are purchasing a quality adventure, you may only play through it once, but it still earns the price of admission by being such high quality. I love this decision. It removes the pressure from having to explore everywhere for fear of missing something, instead, you and your partner explore because you want to. That isn’t to say there isn’t anything to find – there is. Hidden throughout these levels are challenges in which you and your partner can compete. This can be something as simple as chess or shuffle board, to more complex minigames like an ice skating race, or an 80s synthwave rhythm game. These are always fun to give a try, even a couple of times, and best of all – it keeps score. In addition to this, there are a bunch of other fun activities which you can get involved with – playing Simon Says, creating art with an Etch A Sketch, or even having an impromptu snowball fight, it’s very charming stuff. These loving touches are sprinkled so generously throughout the world, I would be shocked if you could discover them all on a single playthrough.
Keep ’em keen
All of these great controls and opportunities for exploration would be for nought however if the levels weren’t built to accommodate them. Thankfully, the vast range of locales you’ll visit are not only refreshing scenery swaps, but are also designed in a way which makes them a joy to explore. Although you may start off as toys in a garage, very reminiscent of Toy Story 2 on the Playstation 1, It Takes Two goes well beyond this and puts you in some truly bizarre situations which each come to a satisfying conclusion through set-pieces which pull together all the skills you have learnt up until that point. Honestly, some of these sections have absolutely no business being as epic as they are. I don’t want to spoil these, but the creativity of Fares and his team at Hazelight shines in this department.
Alongside the changing environments, ITT keeps things consistently fresh by introducing new mechanics and spins on the platforming at a rapid rate. To my shock, none of these were ever duds to me, each one was fun to play around with, and even the worst of the bunch still offered up some interesting twists on the established platforming action. All of these level gimmicks required new ways to collaborate with your partner, serving the ultimate vision of the title. Without spoiling too many of them, these range from one player being able to spray flammable goo at enemies with the other player having a matchstick gun to ignite the efforts of the other, to both players holding magnets and having to time when to attract or repel from one another. It leads to a beautiful harmony of constant “1, 2, 3, jump” moments and each one offers new ways to play.
It would have been easy for one player to feel overpowered or to have some resentment for the other player if these abilities seemed one-sided, or as if one player was hogging all the fun, but this isn’t the case either. It Takes Two values both players equally, gone are the days of arguing over “who is player 1”, in this game, it doesn’t matter, you’re a team. Each new addition changes it up significantly over the course of the 11 hour campaign and no gimmick overstays its welcome. Once you have explored everything there is to offer with the magnets, they’re gone, you won’t see them again. Much like collectibles, Hazelight have trimmed all the fat here, nothing is unnecessarily left, the fun is wrung out of every fibre, it’s nothing short of admirable. The feeling I get from this reminds me of the Mario approach to level design, as each element is explored, taught, built upon and finally flipped upside-down.
The sprinkling of platforming, minigames, activities and surprisingly action-packed set-pieces means that the pacing of It Takes Two is sublime – I cannot see you being bored throughout the surprisingly lengthy adventure and every session you sit down to play with be remarkably different to the last.
The superficial stuff
Visually, It Takes Two is a great looking game, as you can see from the screenshots. The outdoor areas in particular look equally luscious and daunting through the eyes of a tea bag sized protagonist. Despite the great looking environments, the human characters do look a little creepy for lack of a better word. They aren’t straight out of Little Nightmares or anything, but there is certainly something missing here. It did take me out of the human drama of it all, but these cutscenes are brief and it is nowhere near a deal-breaker, I just had to bring it up to provide some kind of counter to all the praise I’m launching at the title.
Also, playing on a base Playstation 4, the game did tend to chug a little bit in the framerate department when there was a lot going on. This largely seemed to be caused by particle effects, but I could be wrong. Again, this did not dampen my experience with the game, and it might not be an issue at all for you Playstation 5 owners out there, you lucky devils.
Musically, I don’t have much to say here, it isn’t something I’m confident with critiquing, but none of the tracks have stuck with me. So, that means it is just fine? Probably. It isn’t anything less than that.
Am I head over heels?
I have to applaud Hazelight’s unapologetic commitment and unwillingness to compromise a vision when it comes to what a co-op experience can be. This is truly something special and I hope that this niche they have managed to carve out with their last few titles continues. It also shows how EA, despite their shortcomings, have taken a chance on this idea and it is truly paying off it seems, hopefully they will take a chance on other unique ideas as they once did (Mirror’s Edge).
In case you can’t tell, I absolutely loved It Takes Two. It is weird, whacky, imaginative and most of all focused. It succeeds wholeheartedly at what it sets out to create, it will have you talking, collaborating, cursing and laughing. This is the new gold standard to which all co-op experiences will now be compared. For my partner and I anyway.