Josef Fares’ excitement for his projects tends to be infection. The director behind hit titles Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and 2018’s two-player prisonbreak adventure A Way Out is back with the new co-op platformer It Takes Two. Neither a dramatic tale of brotherly companionship nor taught action-thriller, It Takes Two is a fantasy rom-com about divorce, of all things.
Cody and May used to be humans. The married couple have been struggling to keep their relationship alive and harmonious, and their eventual decision to get a divorce seems unavoidable, given the limited context. The two reveal these plans to their daughter Rose in a melodramatic kitchen scene in the first minutes of It Takes Two, sending her running off to suffer in private. Unbeknownst to the unhappily married couple, Rose has a pair of carefully crafted dolls: a marionette-like rendition of her mother with hair of yarn and a dirt and clay sculpture of her dad. As she observes her parents squabble from a window, tears fall onto her creations, hoovering up their souls and transplanting their consciousness to the dolls.
Almost from the word “go,” the initially weighty drama risks shredding the sails of It Takes Two’s rom-com intentions. It doesn’t help that there’s limited meaningful detail in these early scenes, in so much that all players know of the couple is that they bicker and disapprove of each other’s distractions and unfinished projects. The script is relatable but overly broad, and doesn’t pull many intimate details to the forefront, aside from Rose’s anguish and fear. Also, to put it bluntly, it’s unclear whether or not Cody and May should actually separate, since every relationship isn’t meant to be rescued by magic wishes and a yammering book.
Dr. Hakim is a fluffy relationship repair guru whose book Rose keeps scuttled away in a hidden corner of the shed, a secret refuge she escapes to when her parents argue. With Cody and May miniaturized and confused, the book introduces itself, taking on the apparent personality of its writer, a strangely off-putting jokester with a Chicano-presenting voice performance and mannerisms recognizably based off of Fares’ excitable mo-cap. Dr. Hakim is meant to rekindle Cody and May’s love, acting as a manifestation of Rose’s will to retain the bonds of her nuclear family. He’s basically a kind of a wisecracking, challenging, but well-intentioned dungeon master.
The shift from overly dramatic kitchen divorce conversation to miniature physics platforming and non-stop jokes is jarring. Still, from this point on, It Takes Two goes full-on comedy, as Cody and May attempt to navigate through their enormous toolshed to reach Rose, visible as a sullen titan in the far distance and out of focus. The couple is initially incensed by their transformation but quickly come to terms with their quest, punctuating by each torn chapter of Dr. Hakim’s romantic fix-it philosophy.
The responsively light quality of the controls caused our preview duo to immediately agree: “This game feels amazing.” It’s wonderful to see that Hazelight’s already-excellent approach to game-feel continues to improves over time. Both Cody and May control identically, able to jump, air-dash, and scamper over platform edges, all with no apparent input lag despite the preview being online (note that local co-op is always an option). The Honey I Shrunk The Kids texture of It Takes Two’s world is rich with detail, and the two areas in the play session couldn’t be more different from one another; the shed is a dank industrial maze of piped machinery and rickety platforms, while an oak tree in the garden houses a fantastical war between squirrels and wasps.
This is boiled down into It Takes Two’s design and Fares’ stated focus: make no two levels alike and constantly transition the heroes’ abilities and goals, where Cody and May always encounter disparate powers and tools. Escaping the shed requires the use of magical nails that Cody can fire off to tack down moving platforms, allowing May to swing on them with her anthropomorphic hammerhead. Transitioning to the next level means losing these items before quickly gaining new ones, like a gun that shoots sap blobs and another which causes them to explode. This use of mechanical collaboration sells the central concept of relationship repair much more effectively than the relentless banter.
Whether playing online or off, the game is always presented as a shifting split screen, which helps much more than it hinders. Some puzzles and platforming challenges require attention to what a co-op partner is doing, along with continued communication to pinpoint timing. The screen occasionally reconnects in certain sections, like when Cody and May compete in asymmetrical minigames, all of which were generally short and simple fun. It’s nice that these are included from a narrative standpoint as well, emphasizing how spirited competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a healthy relationship, additional kudos for how specifically playing It Takes Two best communicates its themes.
It’s clear that Pixar films are an inspiration for the presentation and script, and the gorgeous textures and surreal artistic flourishes make levels pop. That being said, they’re not all going to look quite as beautiful or take similar advantage of the tech, and the transition from the dingy shed to the bustling activity in the squirrel tree definitely makes the latter area shine brighter, including a particularly breathtaking shot of a wasp nest. Again, there wasn’t a single stutter or bit of lag throughout our It Takes Two preview demo, though internet speed will probably be a deciding factor in online play.
Speaking of online, copies of the game employ something called “The Friends Pass” to ensure that there will be no hassling friends into buying a copy to play co-op. In practice, this functions somewhat similarly to A Way Out, which had a “free trial” option to pair friends where only one of them owned the game, and Steam’s remote play was a functional alternative for the version on that platform. However, this is faint praise for a feature, only because It Takes Two has no singleplayer functionality whatsoever, so it requires this kind of streamlined solution for anyone without a couch partner.
All that being said, It Takes Two will be retailing for $39.99, considerably more than A Way Out at launch. With an expected 12 to 14 hours of gameplay, that’s a sizable investment for a longer game experience, and the quality demonstrated in the two-hour preview makes additional environments and new abilities and gameplay elements an attractive prospect. Whether this will successfully rescue the relationship at its center (or an arguing couple on the rocks), It Takes Two looks like another fun co-op title with a diversity of gameplay mechanics to keep things fresh.
It Takes Two releases on March 26 for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.