Editor’s Note: Before we start off the review, I want to transparently mention that I am a full-time employee at Glu Mobile, which was acquired by EA last month. At the time of this review’s publishing, the deal has yet to fully close and I am not currently under EA payroll. While the game was provided for free for the purpose of this review and future coverage, I did not exercise any privileges as a future EA employee to obtain it–SmashPad already had a working relationship with EA’s PR team. Opinions written in this review or any of my work on SmashPad are solely my own.
Josef Fares and the folks over at Hazelight are at it again with another dedicated co-op experience, and if you enjoyed Fares’ past work in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons or A Way Out, Hazelight’s project is definitely going to knock your socks off.
What Is It?
It Takes Two delves into the broken relationship of Cody and May, who have clearly grown apart and have agreed to a divorce, much to their unknowing dismay of their young daughter Rose.
Having seen her parents’ relationship deteriorate as she spent increasingly less time with both of them together, Rose retreats to the shed after a heartbreaking breakfast to play with Sackboy-looking dolls resembling them and eventually coming to tears as any child would at the thought of their family tearing apart.
In typical fairy tale form, after Rose leaves her toys soaked with her tears under the table, her parents magically take the forms of the dolls, and that’s where they meet “The Book of Love,” Dr. Hakim.
Acting mostly as both a guide and the game’s comedic relief, the love expert in the wildly flamboyant Dr. Hakim tries to help Cody and May realize what’s happening by taking them through insane scenarios that both Cody and May are actually responsible for in their own home. Being stuck in the bodies of toys, they’ll have to make like The Borrowers in order to have any hope of getting back to their normal lives, much less survive… with, or apart from one another.
As enjoyable as It Takes Two‘s story ends up being, what’s even more impressive is the way gameplay molds with its narrative, and nothing in essence takes second fiddle. This successful marriage (in a game about divorce, no less) results in a game that’s easily one of the most engaging experiences players will have in gaming today.
Why Should I Care?
As much as I’d like to call It Takes Two the “romantic comedy” or “platformer” that the folks at Hazelight are calling it, I can’t help but believe they’re selling it short. It’s more than that. For a studio with a director as admittedly cocky as Fares, they couldn’t be more modest.
Yes, at its core, It Takes Two is a platformer with a romantic comedy of a story where one player uses Cody and the other takes control of May. That said, it would be easy to dismiss this title as a children’s game or a story that doesn’t take itself seriously. All you have to do is get through the game’s first boss, an angry vacuum cleaner, and you’ll know that the end of that fight is way too squeamish for any kid’s game. Did I mention that the vacuum cleaner was angry because Cody broke it cleaning negligently and May said she’d fix it but ended up tossing it in the shed and replacing it instead? May didn’t know Cody vacuumed foreign objects while Cody had no idea she tossed it in the shed instead of fixing it, which highlights the lack of communication in the couple’s relationship. Pretty deep for a story that doesn’t take itself seriously, right?
What’s even more impressive than its gameplay molding with its narrative is how they made the game’s mechanics also adjust with the mold. We just mentioned the vacuum boss as one example, and that level is actually the shed from the perspective of two really small toys in Cody and May. The level serves as a way to give players a feel for the basic platforming mechanics as well as each level’s gimmick. In the shed, Cody uses loose nails while May takes control of the head of a hammer, and you have to use these items to get through various and entirely joint segments of platforming and puzzle solving to get through the level. The nails Cody has can be thrown at points that’ll help you traverse by swinging on them or using them to hold various platforms together while May’s hammer can be used both as a weapon and as a way to activate switches and break open obstructions to your path.
The hammer and nails are just one of many different sets of tools Cody and May will have in the game. As a way to keep things fresh, players will have different abilities in every level. In addition to the aforementioned hammer and nails, Cody and May will come across an explosive gun and exploding honey gun in a tree, magnets that repel and attract opposing colors that they’ll find helpful in a snowglobe bought at a ski resort, as well as the Mayb’s ability to clone herself so she can be two places at once while Cody gains the ability to turn back time in a broken cuckoo clock — there’s all sorts of stuff, and they’re all used in such a masterful way that none of these gameplay altering items or events overstays its welcome in any level. Every unique mechanic in each level feels just as special as the last.
The overall settings and themes used in each of the game’s levels are also well done and begging to be explored. It’s one thing to be incredibly small and explore what what you believe is its own world in your shed, but imagine discovering a military stronghold consisting of squirrels and wasps in your backyard tree, or even the space station in your daughter’s bedroom.
Each level begs you to explore every nook and cranny, and what makes them even more enjoyable is that there’s usually something special around every corner. Whether it’s a minigame (there are 25 of them ranging from from slot car racing to volleyball), something pertaining to the experiences Cody, May, and Rose had as a family, or even the occasional Easter egg, there’s plenty of stuff to enjoy as you go off the beaten path. It’s something Hazelight really expanded on from A Way Out, as players might remember competing with each other in arm wrestling, or even Connect-4 at the hospital–the things there are to do are taken up a notch in It Takes Two, and nothing feels out of place. All of these features, no matter how big or small, really give each level a sense of charm–which is a far cry from previous platformers that fill levels with collectables like coins, rings, or any sort of “shiny shit” as Fares likes to refer to them as.
The bread and butter of It Takes Two is in its style of cooperative gameplay, but what makes it particularly impressive is how the game constantly crosses over into other genres. As someone that really enjoyed A Way Out, there were definitely weaknesses in the game trying to be something it wasn’t–especially when it tried to become a cover shooter toward the end of the game. It didn’t have the polish you’d find in the cover shooter mechanics of an Uncharted for example. But with It Takes Two, the genres constantly shift, and it’s both seamless and within reason for everything the story and levels set you up for. Aside from being a platformer, It Takes Two becomes an on-rails shooter, there’s a fighting game segment ala Street Fighter, one level goes completely dungeon crawling RPG ala Diablo–and the crazy thing is, none of it feels lazily done. They feel exactly the way games in those genres should feel, and what’s crazy is these are all required parts of the game, not minigames! The places It Takes Two goes really makes A Way Out feel like a tech demo.
All this said, is there anything bad about It Takes Two? Looking at its gameplay design, the game has fantastic pacing with every level being just as memorable as the last… except for the kaleidoscope level. Every level had some sort of gimmick in its mechanics, but the gimmick of the kaleidoscope was the fact that you’re in a kaleidoscope, and it was reliant on your ability to find peculiar details with the patterns you come across. As different as it was, it just wasn’t as any other sequence in the game–not to mention it hurt my eyes.
Aside from that, the game’s most memorable moments to me were also among its most questionable. I hinted at the first boss fight with the vacuum cleaner having an ending that wasn’t appropriate for young kids, and this is a pretty common theme as you keep playing. For a game as colorful as this is, It Takes Two easily could’ve been an E for Everyone game, but it kind of feels like they did everything possible to make it seem more “mature” than it already was. Among the most awkward moments include a cringey scene with a cute stuffed elephant, and a part where Dr. Hakim rhymes the word “relationship” with “relation-shit”–all this said, It Takes Two will make you feel things, and these last two examples are things that the game doesn’t benefit or suffer from, so you wonder if they were actually necessary.
In all honesty, that’s just me nitpicking, but hey–the job of this review is to tell you what works and what doesn’t. All that aside, It Takes Two is awesome.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
With the exception of the kaleidoscope (and this stupid tower I spent 20 minutes trying to climb in order to pop a trophy and get the Platinum, which I succeeded in getting), I enjoyed practically every minute of what this 11-hour campaign offered me and my brother. If you’re looking for a solid co-op experience as you continue to stay at home whether it’s for a date night or a night with the family (with mature kids), this is it–especially at $40.
Further adding value to the package is the inclusion of the Friend Pass that was also included in A Way Out. Whether you pick the game up physically or digitally, you can lend the Friend Pass to anyone so you can play the game cooperatively online, which is fantastic if you can’t play couch co-op. Just know that if you go the Friend Pass route, the person playing via the Friend Pass won’t get any trophies or achievements. You also can’t play cross-platform; you have to be on the same system.
A Way Out showed that Hazelight had the promise to be a leader in cooperative gaming, and with It Takes Two, they’ve proven they’re better than everyone. It Takes Two is the absolute best cooperative experience you’ll find in the medium, and I can’t wait to see what they do next. Josef Fares said he’ll give $1,000 to anyone who gets tired of It Takes Two, and I’m definitely not getting that $1,000.