Following the success of 2018's A Way Out, Sweden's Hazelight Studio has continued its emphasis on co-op play with It Takes Two. Spearheaded by Josef Fares, the developers have this time switched prison-escape drama for a romantic action-adventure with elements of platform games and other genres sprinkled throughout.
The story focuses on two relatable characters, May and Cody, who have decided to separate due to them both being stressed out with work and the pressure of raising their daughter. As the devastating news reaches their daughter, Rose, the story starts to take a turn. Rose is understandably distraught and heads up to her room to play with her dolls. As she does so, she sheds a tear and wishes for her parents to get back together.
In this magical moment, Rose's parents are transported into the dolls' bodies, which two players then assume control of. It is at this point we meet another character in the form of a talking self-help book, which guides you throughout the relationship rebuilding process.
Having thoroughly enjoyed A Way Out, I was really excited to get stuck into another Hazelight adventure created specifically with cooperative play in mind. Couch co-op never ceases to provide amazing moments, and within the first hour of gameplay I was already having so much fun with my co-op partner, and the adorable doll characters we had at our disposal. After a brief introduction with Dr. Hakim (yes the book has a name) It Takes Two has you working together straight away. First there's learning the basic controls, then comes introducing players to their character's unique abilities, which will help with the puzzles ahead.
These abilities change throughout the levels. For example, in a shed-set stage, May gets a hammer which she can use to swing from Cody's throwable nails. The way that each new level introduces new approaches to working together really keeps the gameplay fresh. After a brief adjustment period at the start of each stage, you start to look at how to proceed differently, and it's clear that Hazelight has carefully developed each area with May and Cody's abilities in mind. Because of this, when you crack a puzzle after staring at it for so long, it always feels so rewarding.
Each setting focuses on a different part of May and Cody's broken relationship, and these are accompanied by a little bickering between the two which helps nudge the story along in places without Dr Hakim's input, especially in the early levels. Throughout the story there's a handful of boss fights to tackle, from huge household hoovers to a rusty old toolbox hell-bent on stopping you both. I can assure you, these boss fights are unlike anything you've experienced before, and will certainly put your co-operative skills to the test.
There are also plenty of set pieces for you to enjoy. As the game progresses, the characters slowly but surely warm up to each other. The story took us about 14 hours to get through, but it's easy to lose track of time when you come up against a particularly difficult puzzle, or find an addictive minigame you both like.
The It Takes Two story is great, don't get me wrong, but without the nudges from Dr. Hakim at the start of each level it's easy to get lost and feel like you're making no progress with the story at all. There's a couple of occasions in which you'll think you've completed a relatively easy level, only for the goal posts to be moved by Dr. Hakim and have to continue. In It Takes Two there's always something else to do, which is great at first, but after a while it starts to get a bit annoying. We found ourselves wondering "What now" every time he popped up, knowing full well deep down he was about to tell us to keep going.
While there's a lot more to do in It Takes Two compared to A Way Out, I do feel as if the game could've been a couple of hours shorter. There's a couple of missions in a snow globe level which felt never-ending and very tedious to complete, and didn't really add much to the overall experience.
It Takes Two borrows mechanics often associated with other genres - in some levels you'll be playing a side scroller, others you'll be playing more of a dungeon crawler. The change of perspective keeps gameplay exciting and is a nice little homage to other games. There are also plenty of open levels which are filled with easter eggs and hidden activities to enjoy.
Not only is It Takes Two perfect for local co-op play, but you can also play online. It gets better though, because your co-op partner doesn't even have to own the game to play. Thanks to the Friend's Pass, you can invite another person to join the co-op fun for free, and enjoy the entire game. It Takes Two is great for uniting friends who might not necessarily be gamers at heart - and thanks to there being no need to own two copies, should serve as a great platform for simply socialising with pals you can't see in real life, right now.
Personally, I believe the ultimate co-op experience here is achieved locally via couch co-op, as communication is paramount. Obviously in-game voice chat on Xbox and PlayStation, and Discord on PC, can help with this, but it doesn't come close to the true co-op fun of being able to see each other's screens, side by side.
To spice up the story, Hazelight have added a series of mini-games which are hidden throughout. These are a nice way to break up the story and go head-to-head with your partner. We personally found ourselves doing best of threes, and then best of fives, on every one because they were so much fun. Once you've found them, you can easily jump back into your favourites from the main menu, preventing you from having to play through all the puzzles again.
These minigames are quite easy to miss though - on my playthrough I found a fair amount early on but absolutely none towards the end. Thankfully, the game lets you know how many are in each section, even if you missed them. And I don't know about you, but knowing I've walked past something just makes me want to go back and play again.
All in all, It Takes Two is a wonderful two-player experience, with plenty to immerse you and your co-op partner in for hours on end, whether that be at home or online. Hazelight have worked wonders in the co-op genre yet again here - but with that said, there are still a few moments of annoyance along the way. But if you fall in love with Cody and May early on, you'll quite easily see past this. It Takes Two welcomes both non-gamers and gamers to join in the fun together, and ultimately learn the relatable reality behind that title.
Pros: Amazing set pieces, adorable characters and a pure co-op experience
Cons: Some levels can feel very tedious and never ending, story gets a little lost in places
For Fans Of: Ratchet & Clank, A Way Out, Portal 2, The Stretchers
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