The Pixar film treatment gets an injection of varied gameplay.
It Takes Two is the latest from Hazelight, a title we described as “a further evolution of Brothers A Tale of Two Sons‘ groundbreaking co-op style gameplay and the realism added by A Way Out,” earlier in the month. It’s also the studio’s first contribution to EA’s indie-styled EA Originals label, joining the likes of the iconic Unravel.
If you’re unfamiliar with Hazelight’s shtick, it’s relatively simple: a wholly two-player affair, you and a partner must work together to covercome whatever obstacle is in your way. Or, as It Takes Two‘s MacGuffin, Dr Hakim, puts it: “this is a story of collaboration!”
While Brothers placed its two characters in the control of a single player, A Way Out enforced the two-player requirement through a gritty, realistic narrative that revolved around a prison break. Decent enough, it almost worked as a proof of concept that It Takes Two has improved upon tenfold.
The idea of two-player puzzles and mini-games may have ultimately come from A Way Out, but It Takes Two ditches notions of realism for a magical romp that could double as Pixar’s latest animated treasure. Though with this one, of course, you’re in control of the characters you see on the screen rather than just watching them from afar.
You and a friend play as Cody and May, two parents who are beginning divorce proceedings. The pair break the news to their daughter Rose, whose grief with the situation inadvertently causes the displacement of her parents’ souls into two dolls. Guided by Dr Hakim, a literal Book of Love, Cody and May are forced to work together to return to their bodies… and if Dr Hakim has anything to say about it, to repair their relationship as well.
It Takes Two starts off as photorealistic, but quickly shifts to a stylised, childlike view of the world that befits the clay and wooden bodies of Cody and May respectively. While the pair gain magical abilities — like the ability to cheat death, double jump, dash and the like — so too do the objects around them. The items in May’s toolbox come alive, while the woodland creatures around the family home all gain voices and motivations and vaccuum cleaners seek revenge for sucking up too many champagne corks.
This deviation from realism provides It Takes Two numerous opportunities to change level settings, Cody and May’s powers and also introduces a themed boss for each major chapter. You’ll start out jumping and dashing in chase of a handful of sentient fuses but before long will be manipulating gravity, time and space or tag-teaming to shoot sap and rockets at wasps. While puzzles and enemies requiring teamwork will dot the landscape of any chapter, each feels unique and fresh.
It Takes Two does a wonderful job in teaching you how each level’s new powers work, slowly upping the difficulty on the puzzles that unfold. There are a couple head-scratchers as you progress, but always in the way in which you’ll find yourself nodding in appreciation and respect when the answer finally comes to your duo. While you can play online or local co-op, it’s for this reason that I’d suggest local play wherever possible; communication is key.
Just like Cody and May bicker with one another, you’ll certainly find yourself doing that with the person you play with… so it’s better if you can read body language and take a quick break when you start seeing a vein pop out of someone’s temple due to frustration.
If you can’t go the local co-op route — and that’s certainly understandable in a time of varying COVID-19 lockdowns around the world — a special Friend’s Pass means you’ll be able to purchase the game once and share it between two players. Again, if you play online, it’s best to do it with someone you’re quite familiar with.
While a unique experience for sure, It Takes Two‘s very nature could potentially make it troublesome. I struggled to complete the game ahead of this review — and admittedly didn’t in the end — because my co-op partner, a medical professional who has been working long, COVID-filled hours on top of being on call this week simply had to work. Despite having more time on my hands, I wasn’t able to play by myself (nor would I, hubby — promise!) and I wasn’t about to leave my original partner to head online and find a new one.
The other thing to keep in mind is that this is a game meant to be played between good friends or partners, but the requirement for some skill does exist. Gameplay can become challenging at times, requiring coordination, communication and dexterity. While most sections aren’t too taxing, I’d imagine some duos could risk their relationship when frustration starts to rear its head.
Boss fights can be tricky, though most offer reasonable checkpoints if you and your partner happen to die at the same time (apart from a couple glaring omitions early on as you’re still getting used to things). On the whole, one player can die — and mash a button to then respawn in a boss fight, or just instantly respawn otherwise — and you won’t head back to a checkpoint if the other remains alive.
I’m not usually one to talk up replay value, but It Takes Two certainly offers a bunch — in addition to unique abilities between Cody and May that you may want to swap out and try, there are a number of mini-games hidden within each chapter. They range from whack-a-mole to tug of war and are quite enjoyable (and feed into the themes of competition over collaboration to boot). You can replay those — and chapters — from the main menu for a quick hit.
It Takes Two wears a lot of hats, and each of them well. It’s a romantic comedy, a challenging shooter, a head-scratching puzzler and more. While it has a somewhat predictable narrative (less so than A Way Out, for the most part), it’s still charming and full of Pixar-like whimsy. Find a loved one and get into this one; you’ll certainly be glad you did.
It Takes Two heads to Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S & X, PS4 and PS5 on 26 March. You can check out the first 35 minutes of gameplay below (with apologies for sound problems offered before you click play).
It Takes Two was reviewed in local co-op using a promotional code on Xbox Series X, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.
26 March 2021