‘IT TAKES TWO’: GAME REVIEW
It’s been three years since Hazelight Studios debuted the co-op adventure A Way Out. Like many of founder Josef Fares’ creations, the game was a strictly co-op experience that, though it had interesting ideas, stumbled a bit when it came to execution. The same can’t be said of 2021’s It Takes Two, a wholly original next-gen cooperative adventure that patches up many of the studio’s previous mistakes.
Where Hazelight Studios’ previous games introduced tired cooperative mistakes and expectations, forcing players into a tedious loop of frustrating controls and lukewarm narrative, It Takes Two flips the script in a meaningful way. It’s a lighthearted romp through the trials and tribulations of relationships that isn’t afraid to inject humor into what could be a very serious narrative, letting players fully embrace both characters’ roles in meaningful ways. And at the end of the day, it’s just plain fun.
It Takes Two follows Cody and May, a couple who decide it’s time to divorce. They make the choice to end their marriage and hastily share their decision with their daughter Rose, who doesn’t take the news very well. As we soon see, however, she’s been prepping for this very situation. So instead of agonizing over which parent she’s going to live with, Rose takes action.
She whips out the Book of Love, a tome written by the mysterious Dr. Hakim, which she purchased as a way to mitigate the incoming divorce disaster. She weeps over handmade dolls of her parents, one made of clay and one made of wood. As she laments over the Book of Love, she inadvertently casts a spell that transplants the real Cody and May into the dolls. While their organic bodies lie asleep in their home, Cody and May must navigate the world in their miniature forms.
How did they get into the doll bodies, and what do they have to do to leave them? The only answers they have come in the form of the Book of Love, the blisteringly annoying book that’s suddenly come to life, spouting advice about the various ways couples can work to revitalize their relationships. That’s all well and good, but there’s far more than that on Cody and May’s minds when they have to navigate the world in their current bodies, avoiding killer wasps, traversing a shed with evil toolboxes, and even malevolent vacuum cleaners.
With the “help” of the Book of Love, which seems to hinder more than it helps, Cody and May work to overcome a variety of obstacles that the book seems to insist will help bring them together again. But as the two bicker constantly, that seems more like a far-off goal than a reality.
Cody and May are assigned different roles throughout each area. Two players are absolutely required to play, so you can’t get by with an AI partner. That makes the game feel a bit more exciting and intimate, especially since there are a variety of puzzles you must figure out by working together. Communication, like in real relationships, is tantamount to success. The puzzles implemented throughout each level aren’t particularly original per se, but the way they’re designed make you feel accomplished when you figure them out.
In an early part of the game, Cody and May receive a hammer and nail power-up apiece. Cody must aim nails as if he’s shooting a bow, while May shatters glass jars and swings from the nails Cody sends flying through the air. He can pin platforms in place so May can jump across them, and May can continue thwacking buttons to make sure Cody can cross bridges. These roles work beautifully together as complementary ways for players to contribute equal parts of effort to navigating each level.
There are a wide variety of environments and locations to explore beyond the area immediately surrounding Cody, May, and Rose’s home, or at least it feels like it. There’s a gorgeous land set up in Rose’s room that looks more like a magic fairytale kingdom than anything else. One player must slide around on rails, while the other must continue to clear obstacles and animals from the pathways, something that demands close cooperation and both players’ attention.
Later, Cody and May enter a garden and receive the power to grow vines and latch onto things and a water cannon to help grow plants throughout the areas with fertile soil. In every area, these powers feel like well planned-out ways for players to work on or consider their own relationships, even if they’re just friends.
All of this unfolds throughout a series of entertaining vignettes that don’t feel out of place in a Pixar or Dreamworks animated film. In fact, if the game hadn’t needed to be interactive, it could have pulled double duty as a film. Cody and May have excellent voice actors, the music is fantastic, and the game oozes a familiar charm that makes you feel good at the end of the day. The same can’t be said for the Book of Love, but if you just mute your TV whenever it appears, you should be just fine.
It Takes Two is a fun, uplifting adventure with plenty of heart. It’s rare to see such positivity in a game these days that’s still fun to play and encourages cooperation with others. It’s great to see a studio taking cues for improvement after putting out a few clunkers, and It Takes Two will likely go down as Hazelight’s best game. Be sure to grab a friend or loved one and see if it doesn’t improve your day at least a bit.
Photo courtesy of EA Games