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‘IT TAKES TWO’ OFFERS A DELIGHTFUL REFRESH TO CO-OP ADVENTURE GENRE

Hazelight Studios has learned a lot since releasing its debut co-op adventure A Way Out in 2018. Under founder Josef Fares’ direction, the game was a clunky and unoriginal tale of Leo and Vincent, convicted prisoners who worked together to break out of prison.

A Way Out wasn’t Fares’ first co-op rodeo, by any means. Before founding Hazelight, the film director-turned-game director worked alongside Starbreeze Studios on 2013’s Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, which released to critical acclaim.

Though something felt as though it was lost in translation with A Way Out, Fares and the Hazelight team have stumbled onto something patently wonderful with their latest offering, It Takes Two, the new co-op adventure game slated to launch on March 26. It’s an important exercise in not judging a book by its cover (though you should absolutely judge the book in this game), as at first glance, It Takes Two seems like another pithy “you do X, I’ll do Y” co-op adventure in which things rarely change.

After exploring this lush, colorful world for around two hours, I came away pleasantly surprised by the game’s sheer variety and scope. It’s no doubt one of the most charming cooperative experiences I’ve had in some time, and that’s owed to the game’s willingness to constantly change things up.

Cody and May are a married couple on the precipice of divorce. They bicker constantly, they have zero patience or understanding for one another and it’s clear that their union is about to be severed. When they break the news to their young daughter Rose, she’s understandably distressed, but she’s been preparing for this.

After seeing numerous fights between Cody and May break out over the years, Rose has made tiny dolls of her parents, one out of clay (Cody) and one out of wood (May). She takes them to a hiding place where she curls up with the Book of Love, a self-help guide that she believes will help her parents reconcile. Her tears fall on the dolls, and suddenly the real Cody and May find themselves navigating the world as their toy counterparts.

It Takes Two Book of Love Therapy Session Image

They’re guided by the Book of Love, which Rose had purchased to try to help figure out a way to keep her parents together — only the book is now a loud, irritating anthropomorphic tome that insists it’ll help Cody and May rekindle their relationship as they work to overcome a series of challenges that they hope will return them to the real world. Whatever is going on, Cody and May know they’ve got to get to the bottom of things, reach Rose to have her answer their questions and get back to their bodies. A lively, Pixar-like adventure ensues that wouldn’t be out of place as a big-budget 3D-animated film.

Cody and May are as different as night and day. May’s a skilled engineer, while it isn’t as obvious what Cody’s forte is, but their personalities couldn’t be more dissimilar. May is pragmatic and analytical, with a biting English accent and dry humor. Cody is more fun-loving and carefree, relying on strength to solve problems. As they work their way through a series of wildly interesting co-op environments, these personality traits manifest in different tools and abilities they both can use.

At first glance, It Takes Two might seem like just another co-op adventure that has you switching off to open a door or help hold one open for the other player. It has all of these puzzles, sure, but it’s also keen on mixing things up to make sure gameplay feels fresh at every turn. For instance, one of the first ways you interface with the world in Cody and May’s pint-sized doll bodies is through a series of vacuum hoses and tubes. You learn how to work together with your partner, whether that means online or through local co-op. You can’t play solo, unfortunately, because all your time will be spent alternating between Cody and May.

It Takes Two Video Game Image

That’s where communication comes in. You may need to send Cody along a wall to flip a switch while May floats along steam in the air to another platform. Or perhaps May needs to hold open a door while Cody runs through it. It’s up to the player to figure out who’s best for which job, as like with the couple’s marriage, there’s no place for arguments. This type of play can be predictable, but it’s satisfying to work together to solve puzzles. Where the game truly shines, however, is in how it doles out different mechanics for each area.

In one section of the demo, the couple gets a hammer and nail bow power-up. Cody can shoot nails like a bow that May can swing on with a hammer, or hit buttons and items like glass bottles to smash them. This turns into Cody shooting nails on platforms so May can swing from each block to another to reach a goal. In another area, where Cody and May find themselves at the mercy of a legion of intelligent squirrels, they’re armed with a sap gun and a matchstick launcher that ignites the sap. The sap can also tilt items closer to the couple so they can reach them, boosting them to higher places. Later, there’s a “boat” scene that has Cody using the gun to steer the boat while May shoots down sap-covered wasps.

Boss battles are just as creative, with one involving an anthropomorphic vacuum that May promised to fix and left in the closet. It takes a surprisingly violent turn at the end that may disturb some viewers. Other bosses from the early sections of the game include a broken old toolbox from which Cody and May have to rescue tools inside from a lifetime of painful rust and a wasp-robot that requires the two players to cooperate on to take down.

It Takes Two Book of Love Image

The game is gorgeous, creating an impressively believable world despite being populated with household items that have come to life and intelligent speaking squirrels and wasps. There’s just one glaring issue: the Book of Love, or “Dr. Hakim.” Not only is his design a complete eyesore that recalls McDonald’s Happy Meal mascot redesign a few years back (pink foil eyebrows and ‘stache on top of red?), but the book itself is an obnoxious spectacle. Dr. Hakim recalls tired Hispanic stereotypes and seems to be there only as an instigator and pseudo-guide for Cody and May. They comment frequently on how annoying he is and I have no idea how this character could have put a smile on any focus group or tester’s face.

Book of Love aside, It Takes Two is a delightful, uplifting and positive game in its early offering that seems poised to be an absolute triumph. The game offers variety in droves, excellent voice acting and co-op that’s just plain great to play. Whether you jump online or hit the couch with a partner or friend of your own, there’s plenty to unpack here, and you absolutely should — just mute the Book of Love.

Photo courtesy of Hazelight Studios

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