For a lot of gamers out there, the thought of playing a game co-op reminds them of the past and when they were younger. Playing split screen with your friends was the reason many started gaming in the first place but somewhere along the way, the co-op experience seemed to die out bar a few select titles. Hazelight Studios, based out of Stockholm, have single-handedly tried to bring this genre of gaming back and better than ever.
They already have an award winning co-op game to their name in “A Way Out”, where you and a friend or other online player, play as two prisoners aiming to escape from custody. It showed us how, with clever ideas and a good story, the experience of playing a game fully with your friend can be exciting and great fun. My twin brother and I really enjoyed playing it together even though at the time we were based on opposite sides of the world. It proved to us that there’s no substitute for a good co-op game. Now Hazelight Studios and publishers EA bring us It Takes Two, a whole new take on the co-op gaming experience along with a unique story and engaging gameplay.
It Takes Two is centered around two main characters, Cody and May, a married couple who are going through with the tough decision to get divorced. After telling their daughter Rose about their plans to separate, she runs off to play with her homemade dolls. Being saddened about what’s about to happen, Rose cries tears onto the dolls that sets off a magical reaction and causes her parents to be transported into the dolls’ bodies. It’s here we are introduced to the game’s narrator and guide, Dr. Hakim who’s a talking book that specialises in fixing relationships.
The plot from here on out is based on Cody and May having to work together to get back to their real bodies, all the while trying to repair their relationship. This is done rather cleverly during the game with different chapters relating to various arguments or fights that caused them to grow apart. A chapter could be based around the fact that Cody never fixed the broken vacuum or May was always busy and never had time.
Not many games can say that they have openly dealt with the topic of divorce quite like It Takes Two has. It’s interesting and I’m sure people who have sadly experienced this in their lives will be able to relate to the characters and what they are going through. It’s not all doom and gloom though as there is more than enough humour throughout to keep the mood upbeat for the majority of the game. Dr. Hakim in particular is pretty witty and funny at times. In a weird way it’s a nice break away from the more general storylines in gaming, but to be fair when playing it with a friend who you are not romantically involved with can be awkward at times.
The gameplay is where I find that It Takes Two really comes into its own. For a game that only costs €40 at launch you definitely get your money’s worth, and then some. Not only that, but with the game’s ‘Friend’s Pass’ feature, only one of the players actually needs to purchase the title to invite another to help them play online.
All of the levels are based around teamwork but to me it was really surprising to see how many different ways that Hazelight Studios have managed to incorporate this into the game. Each level has its own mechanics, be it time altering, size changing or a totally original one. Some of these will be familiar to gamers but others may be new and really interesting. With the added aspect of Cody and May having been shrunk down to doll size figures, all the levels are kind of “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” inspired and brilliantly designed with well thought out details.
It should be noted that it helps if the person who you are playing with is a somewhat regular gamer. This is because many of the levels can be tricky enough even for seasoned gamers, so playing with someone who isn’t used to playing games may prove to be challenging. This may either add to the overall experience as you help each other out, or it could result in both of you getting seriously frustrated. I played with my brother and we both really enjoyed the experience but we did mention a couple of times how difficult certain sections would be if we hadn’t played many games before.
Over the duration of the game, magnets, hammers, musical instruments and more are all used in ways that force each player to work alongside the other to complete the level. With the game being nearly entirely in split screen even during online play, this can let you see what the other person is up to and help with situations where timing is key. Throughout the game there will be multiple times where you may find yourself and your friend counting down from 3 to time a jump or attack to perfection.
Any time I play with friends online, there is usually an aspect of competition between us and the good thing about It Takes Two is that there are plenty of mini games throughout the game to try and gain those all important bragging rights. Some examples of these are racing snails, plunger shooting and many more, all of which can be played at any time from the main menu once unlocked.
The overall design aesthetic is similar to that of a Pixar movie. Visually there are some really nice details and attention has been given to make sure it looks as good as can be expected for a game whose main priorities wouldn’t really be the visuals. During gameplay if you take the time to stop and look around, you may be pleasantly surprised. The Unreal Engine 4, often used in EA games, really helps to make this not just a fun game to play, but a nice game to look at also. Some impressive lighting along with good textures all make this game easy on the eye.
I have the good fortune of being able to play on the new Xbox Series X and although It Takes Two may not exactly push the system to its graphical limits, the extra power really does make it look the part.
Hazelight Studios and EA have again, in my opinion, successfully managed to create a true co-op game. Through clever level design, great game mechanics and some nice looking visuals, they have tackled the touchy subject of divorce in a way that makes it enjoyable all the way until the end.
I would highly recommend this to anyone that has a friend who is always up for playing online and enjoys co-op games, but at the same time I’d also say it may be a great way to introduce someone to gaming for the first time. With some patience and understanding, at the end of It Takes Two, both players will have experienced a game unlike any other and hopefully have gotten to know each other a bit more in the process.
You can learn more about Hazelight’s It takes Two here.