Most gamers who grew up playing console games in the 90’s and 00’s have at least some affinity for 3rd person action platformers. I am one of those gamers, but it seems like the genre hasn’t grown and evolved with the consoles as some other genres have. There are a few exceptions, but most of those are Nintendo exclusives. Luckily, we have a recently released game that is looking to set a new high mark for the genre. It Takes Two, developed by Hazelight Studio (a studio that specializes in co-op games) and published by EA, is essentially a playable Pixar movie for two players. It has fantastic pacing and is constantly giving you something to do. Sometimes it’s what feels like non-stop action and at other times it’s just exploring the unique level environments that are filled with interactable objects and obstacles, most of which require a decent amount of collaboration and teamwork between the two players in order to get past. The story is somewhat simple, revolving around the two playable characters being forced to rebuild their relationship. At some points, it might be a little cheesy or cliché but it is effective at reinforcing the ideas that are central to its co-op gameplay: Teamwork, Communication, and CO-LLA-BO-RATION!
It Takes Two begins with a cutscene depicting an argument between the married couple Cody and May, the two playable characters. The art style at this point is realistic, not photo-realistic, but with the detail you’d expect from a modern game. As they argue you find out they’re planning on getting a divorce. Their daughter Rose overhears the argument, and just like in most TV shows and movies Cody and May do a poor job explaining the situation to their daughter. Rose takes it upon herself to fix the problem by making them become friends again. Fortunately (or maybe not so fortunately), she has a book to help her with this task – we later learn that she found this book in the trash. As Rose reads Dr. Hakim’s Book of Love she begins acting out a conversation between two dolls she has made to represent her parents, but that soon turns into her crying, with the tears falling onto the dolls. This causes a magical transformation to occur, and her parents become trapped as the doll versions of themselves. Obviously, this comes as a shock to Cody and May and they immediately begin their journey to reverse the spell. They quickly learn that their transformation wasn’t the only magical occurrence. Most of the creatures and animals they encounter and some of the household objects become anthropomorphic. The first example of this they encounter is The Book of Love, which has turned into a talking book with pages for arms and an almost over-the-top foreign accent (when my girlfriend edited this, she suggested I use “sexy” to describe Dr. Hakim’s accent). He introduces himself as Dr. Hakim and somewhat forcefully encourages them to work on their relationship. They want nothing to do with him, and for the first part of the story he sort of acts as a nuisance, thwarting many of their efforts to return to their bodies. However, in the second half of the game, he becomes their counsellor and guide, helping them complete their quest by giving them new abilities and telling them where they need to go.
I’ve noticed that there’s been a lot of negative responses towards Dr. Hakim. At first, he’s basically just a roadblock, throwing a wrench in the works whenever you get close to a goal. But I found his dialogue humorous in a cheesy way. His animations/movements also have a funny, cheesy quality to them. The trailers I watched before playing really focus on him a lot and made it seem like he was going to be a non-stop part of the game constantly popping up, but his appearances are spaced out appropriately. My girlfriend, who was my co-op partner the entire time, admitted at the end that Dr. Hakim was her favorite character (mostly due to his pure unadulterated goofiness).
The main aspect of It Takes Two that makes it so enjoyable is all the variety. There are seven chapters in the game and each one has multiple sections. Some sections are somewhat similar to the one that came before whereas others are completely different. All the chapters and sections are based on locations in and around the family’s home, and some are more realistic (like a train station toy set or the outside garden), but most take on much more elaborate qualities than what is expected of a playset or other household object. Chapter 3: Rose’s Room probably has the most variety, and makes use of all the different types of toys you might find in a child’s room. There’s a dinosaur section and a pirate ship section where you have to work together to steer a ship by running on parallel hamster wheels that act as paddles. There are two sections in particular in this chapter that really stood out to me as being the most unique: the first of which is their take on a dungeon crawler level where the view switches to top-down. In that section, each player has four unique attacks/abilities that must be used to defeat enemies and traverse the level. The other particularly unique section is based on Rose’s space toys and you get transported to what looks like a level in outer space with a star-filled sky. As magical and unreal as some of the levels sound like they might get, the designers keep things grounded by using objects from that area of the house as part of that level’s design.
Most of the sections are very large and a few are on the lengthier side, but part of what makes them so much fun to explore are the various methods of traversal the game employs. Early on you each gain a hook and string (this is the only item/ability that carries over from area to area) allowing you to swing on various hooks as well as allowing you to grind/slide on all different sorts of things, like wires, vines, and all different types of tracks. Any time you can interact with something like that an (RB) icon appears next to it, a simple press of the right shoulder button allows you to mount the object and you’re off to the races, sometimes it’s just for a short distance and other times you and your co-op partner are zooming through long tunnels jumping from track to track to avoid obstacles. The game is full of other methods of transport as well, from bugs and animals that can be mounted and controlled, sometimes in the air and sometimes on the ground, to contraptions ranging from real-life items such as fidget spinners to a glider built by a group of highly intelligent squirrels who used a pair of Cody’s boxers as the wings. It seems like each section has its own unique methods of transportation. I could tell you about more but it would take forever and part of the fun of the game is finding out what’s next.
Each chapter introduces multiple abilities/mechanics for the players. Sometimes they are used for the entire chapter, and other times it might just be one section. The first unique abilities you get are a hammer for May and throwable nails for Cody. These allow May to hit certain objects that are colored yellow, which in turn causes a reaction such as making a platform temporarily pop up. Cody can throw his nails to hold things in place like the platforms. In the Space level, May gets gravity boots which allow her to walk up curved walls and onto the ceiling. Cody gets a belt that gives him the power to shrink or grow big. When going through the levels sometimes you have to use the abilities on their own, but a lot of the time they must be used in tandem with your co-op partner.
Sometimes it might take a few minutes to understand how your new abilities interact with the level and with each other, but the controls for all the different mechanics are always clearly stated and they all felt very natural to use. In addition, interactive objects are either colored differently or an icon appears next to the object indicating which button or ability can be used there. Overall the designers did a great job crafting intricate levels with puzzles and perils that make use of all these different abilities. I really like how they designed real-world places like a spa or a ski resort as miniature versions, making use of regular-sized objects in different and fun ways. Just as impressive are the programmers who implemented so many different mechanics, some of which are just used for a short time. There was more than one section that we wished had gone on a little longer so we could play with our abilities a little longer. The game has some replayability value since each character has unique abilities which at certain points make the characters take slightly different paths. You could play the game a second time as the other character and get a different experience, although the story always remains the same.
The game does an excellent job at building up to big cinematic moments. There are so many movie-like action scenes where you’re escaping from something chasing you like a group of moles or a microphone that’s turned into a giant snake, and then when you get to the end of that section there might be a slow-motion part where you need to dive out of the way one more time or there might be a short cut scene with a movie-like explosion. Another aspect that adds to the pace and tension is the numerous boss fights. Sometimes they are foreshadowed like the vacuum cleaner or the giant octopus floaty, but other times they feel like sort of a surprise. Also, they don’t always necessarily come at the end of each chapter, which I found refreshing. The boss fights in general are probably the toughest sections of the game. Luckily any time you die you respawn very quickly; however, if both players die at the same time then you go back to the last checkpoint, but most bosses have multiple checkpoints during the fight which are depicted by lines in their health bars.
I mentioned before that the art style was somewhat realistic. The levels are mostly built with items from the real world. Everything is colorful and the textures look great. One of the most interesting looking and detailed sections is the wooden town in the Cuckoo Clock level. Everything in it looks like it’s made out of wood, from the buildings to the water in the stream flowing around the town. Each level seems like it has its own unique feel and as I played I was sad to leave some areas, but at the same time, I was excited to see what was next.
The sound design is also top-notch. The soundtrack always picked up during climatic sections like boss fights and chase scenes giving the scene even more tension. The music started to really stand out towards the end in the Attic chapter which has a musical theme. As you gather the supplies for a concert there is Jazz music playing in the background in some sections and later switches to more techno-sounding tracks as you make your way into the glow stick nightclub hidden in your attic. The sound effects are spot on. The Attic chapter is filled with different musical instruments all throughout the level and they can all be interacted with to make noise, including keyboards, drum sets, and guitars. The voice acting is also very good, especially May. One other audio detail I liked was the change in Cody’s voice in the space level when he changes size – a little squeak when he’s little and a deeper booming voice when at his largest size.
It Takes Two is a game that all gamers should play. The co-op only aspect could turn some people away, but they make it very easy to play the game with others. You can play split-screen locally or online with anyone on your friends list even if they don’t own the game. And the co-op gameplay is what really makes the game shine, the expertly crafted levels are so much fun to explore, traverse, and complete. The seemingly never-ending flow of new mechanics makes the game feel fresh and makes playing as each character a unique experience. Hazelight Studio seems to have mastered the art of making co-op games, each game they create gets better and better. I can’t wait to see what they’re planning next.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.