“It Takes Two is a charming co-op adventure that combines the best ideas from Nintendo and Pixar.”
Varied level design
While video games can span a wide range of genres, there is one limit that remains largely unknown: the romantic comedy. Co-op platformer It Takes Two shows how much we missed thanks to the game industry’s fear of cooties.
The adventure published by EA is the latest project from multiplayer studio Hazelight and director Josef Fares, the eclectic director of A Way Out. It Takes Two is a blatant rom-com about the restorative power of communication and teamwork instead of spreading grim science fiction or high fantasy. Imagine a 12 hour couples therapy session over Astro’s playroom.
It Takes Two is a love work that has the heart of a Pixar movie and the soul of a Nintendo platformer. Even the most die-hard gamers could fall in love with the most inventive co-op game since Portal 2.
It doesn’t take two starts with a traditional meeting-sweet. Instead, it starts with a married couple about to divorce. Cody and May are a contentious couple who decide to end it. When they deliver the news to their daughter, she does what any confused child in the situation would do: with the help of a magical book, her parents are accidentally trapped in the body of two tiny dolls.
What follows is a vibrant adventure in which the ex-lovebirds must solve their problems that have physically manifested themselves in platform challenges. The game takes full advantage of its magical, realistic premise to playfully transform local quarrels into clever video game tropes. The broken vacuum that Cody was too lazy to fix? It’s become a Bowser-sized boss. The annoying wasp’s nest in the backyard? The little couple have no choice but to go to war against them with a mini third person shooter.
The most straightforward comparison of the game isn’t another platformer, it’s Pixar’s Inside Out. Both offer the same kind of illustrative storytelling, using cartoony set pieces to emphasize real experiences. Like a great Pixar movie, It Takes Two features memorable characters, moving emotional beats, and the occasional comedic wink that parents pray their kids didn’t get it.
The game takes full advantage of its magical, realistic premise to playfully transform local quarrels into clever video game tropes.
The story can sometimes be narrative scattered. There are lots of quick gameplay ideas at every level that don’t always sync up with a parallel relationship. Storylines seem to come out of the left box to justify moving the game to a snowy level or some elaborate musical set piece. Fortunately, every new mechanic is so enjoyable that it hardly matters how effective the game is as a therapy session.
Despite the cinematic comparisons, the game works just as well as it does due to its interactivity. Lots of love stories tell audiences how important teamwork is, but It Takes Two brings physicality to these hours of life. The game can only be played with another human partner, so an actual unit is required to complete it. The players learn to communicate alongside May and Cody and to build their trust in each other.
It’s a high profile idea that comes with finesse. As a platformer, running and jumping feels as good as a Mario game. The puzzles are rarely challenging, but the solutions are ingenious enough to inspire satisfying Eureka moments. The levels themselves offer a constant flurry of fun ideas that never exceed their reception. Once players get bored with a traditional platform puzzle, it switches to a mini dungeon crawler that is completely different and just as fun.
Most impressive is how much thought has gone into making a co-op game that actually takes care of both players. May and Cody get completely different tools to play with in each level. In the opening chapter, Cody is given a set of nails that can be shot into wooden walls, while May is given a hammer head with which she can swing on these nails. The mechanics and uses of each item are completely different, giving each player their own unique experience. There’s never a point where it feels like Player 1 has the “cool” item and their partner is a buddy.
Most impressive is how much thought has gone into making a co-op game that actually takes care of both players.
This is something that a lot of co-op games really struggle with. Nintendo neglects player two by making them either a mechanical clone of the protagonist or a helper with limited functionality. It Takes Two is entirely designed for both sides of the split screen, always making sure that you take turns who gets their big hero moment.
That’s another thing that gets the game right when it comes to relationships. Both Cody and May are equally important to dynamics. Players have to work together to bring the characters together, but they are never left standing around while their partner is having all the fun. Give and take is never a person’s expense.
“No shiny shit”
Before the game was released, EA did a Q&A with director Josef Fares. He had a choice phrase that he repeated several times when asked about his approach to game design: “No shiny shit.”
Fares responded to one of his signatures against the concept of “replayability” and emphasized that there were no hollow collectibles in It Takes Two. Instead, his goal was to create an interactive world that was fun to explore without the haphazard hooks.
Feels like Fares just having fun making every little interaction.
This philosophy is reflected in the nine different levels of the game. When players are high up in a tree, they can stop to throw a stray paper airplane. There is no real incentive to do this. It’s just for the love of the game. This is a breath of fresh air in the era of the open world card game where players are given a repetitive checklist of tasks to complete.
The next thing that needs to make the game “collectibles” are mini-games that are spread over each level. These are simple competitive challenges like tug of war or snail racing that give players an easy break from the story. While they’re not complex side quests, they provide a great excuse to break the pace and let partners blow off any potential frustration that may arise between tricky co-op mistakes.
Feels like Fares just having fun making every little interaction. The director is especially in love with his own games and that attitude is contagious. While his earlier work can feel a little too serious, It Takes Two is a broader representation of both his colorful personality and the immense skill at Hazelight. He jokes (probably) that he will give $ 1,000 to anyone who doesn’t love the game. As much as I love the money, I certainly won’t ask him to pay. He wins this bet.
It takes two is Hazelight and Josef Fares’ most complete vision of co-op gaming to date. It uses clever interactivity to highlight the importance of good communication in video games and relationships alike. With Nintendo-quality level design and an enchanting storyline that motivates the platform action, it’s the rare multiplayer game that builds friendships rather than ending them.
Is there a better alternative?
No. It Takes Two is by far the best co-op game of its breed since Portal 2.
How long it will take?
The adventure lasts a surprisingly long 10-12 hours. May and Cody get completely different skills in each level, which makes playing them through the second time feel very tempting.
Should I buy it?
Yes. It’s a joyful time from start to finish, and it comes with a Friend Pass that one of your friends will use to get a copy of the game. It’s a two-on-one deal that ensures you have someone to play with.