Ambition falling short is often misunderstood as messiness or a general feeling that something might be overstuffed or a little unfocused. So much so it can shift the focus away from intent or potential greatness that might be sitting there under the surface, right in front of us. Even though It Takes Two feels a little padded in its tale of soon to be divorced couple Cody and May working together in a fantasy setting born from their own lives and the imagination of their daughter to get back to reality – it’s still an experience that is chock full of ambition.
And above all, earnest fun. Variety is one of its strong-suits.
It Takes Two is the latest co-op adventure from Hazelight Studios, the team and creative force behind the somewhat underrated A Way Out – which itself was also a co-op-only affair. And much like that action-adventure riff on classic action films from decades past, It Takes Two preserves its split-screen presentation whether it’s being played in the same room or online.
Unlike A Way Out, the colourful visuals and fantastical setting of It Takes Two keeps both the puzzle solving, exploration and traversal firmly in the realm of the 3D platformer. Think Mario and you’re on the right track – with the overall controls and movement feeling precise, spot on and fluid in all the right areas. And in that sense the many surprises, twists and turns, and forays into various themes and genres are often the real star of the show. We’re talking switching up mechanics and introducing some wild and fun ideas on the reg.
It Takes Two is the latest co-op adventure from Hazelight Studios, the team and creative force behind the somewhat underrated A Way Out.
Playing the game, that is exploring a new environment and a new mechanic, often sits opposite the characters and the borderline obnoxious sentient love book that pops up from time to time to point out that two people working together to jump over a wall is like two people in a relationship doing just that. That is, the metaphorical wall that’s keeping them apart. So, work together in this inventive sci-fi setting where a stuffed animal called Moon Baboon is hell bent on intergalactically keeping you from the real world – and here’s a fun mechanic that lets you shrink or grow at will – and maybe that will mean no more divorce.
Right, so that is a somewhat cynical take on the narrative, but the paper-thin premise and hook doesn’t really change throughout the entire journey – where you’re looking at a dozen or so hours of various collaborative challenges to find the right one that mirrors the idea of rekindling a relationship. Bolstered by bickering between Cody and May, relentless put downs that slowly turn into reminiscing and then ultimately realising what’s important it’s all, well, a little on the nose. Earnest sure, and there’s definite character development. But is it in line with the platforming and charming locales and situations? Sort of. Maybe. Not really.
Make no mistake, It Takes Two features several pure fantasy-driven moments that are wonderful -- memorable slices of co-op where the collaborative message is intrinsically tied to the actions carried out by each player. Moments where communication is encouraged and not explicitly telegraphed, sparked instead by an epiphany or a theory.
The sci-fi sequence mentioned earlier is a great example, with another being a trip into a fantasy world of cardboard and table-top crudity in the guise of an action-RPG. Each locale is not only vivid but brought to life with character, little bits of detail, and a great blend of the real-world and pure fantasy. It might only be a point of reference, but there’s a definite Pixar quality to not only the look of Cody and May, but also the various characters they meet along the way, and the places they visit. It all feels alive and vibrant in a way that’s akin to being a part of an animated tale.
Make no mistake, It Takes Two features several pure fantasy-driven moments that are wonderful -- memorable slices of co-op where the collaborative message is intrinsically tied to the actions carried out by each player.
The real problem may not even be the simplicity of the story, but in how the impending divorce of Cody and May isn’t enough to sustain the lengthy journey in and of itself. So instead of the spectacle and pace ramping up and peaking in the latter stages, It Takes Two’s final locations and obstacles aren’t on par with some of the brilliance that comes before. Mainly because the relationship between the two leads is brought to the fore instead of the moment-to-moment variety. Fighting for the cause against the wasp menace, restoring warmth to a frozen-over town… basically anything that isn’t the underlying singular theme, is far more interesting.
As is, well, playing this style of vibrant puzzle-platformer with disparate mechanics in co-op. The setup all but ensures that you’re unlikely to have played anything quite like It Takes Two before, at least in this way. There’s a freshness to the experience that sits alongside the wonderful controls and the solid foundation and variety.
Sure, there’s padding in the sense that certain sections feel like they go on for longer than they need to – but outside of mini-games to discover, It Takes Two doesn’t offer up x amount of x things to collect to simply ramp up exploration. In fact, this side of the experience grows quite naturally, where things start off strictly linear and then gradually open to the point where you might find something cool and that’s simply… something cool to find. Design-wise the levels and various locations are surprising in their invention and the new things they bring to the table.
In the end though the story that revolves around the divorce of Cody and May feels, well, a little divorced from the vibrant co-op platformer that makes up the bulk of It Takes Two. Where new and exciting fantasy locations and interesting mechanics are introduced regularly with a story that fails to keep pace or even reach a satisfying conclusion. That said the co-op action here is memorable, ambitious, and quite unlike anything we’ve played in a while.