Cody and May are getting divorced. It’s been a long time coming, it seems, as you meet the two of them as they squabble over forgotten responsibilities in the driveway. The paperwork is probably just days away from getting signed. Except… their daughter Rose has other ideas, imploring Dr. Hakim’s Book of Love to put her parents through a crash course of couple’s therapy, transforming them into diminutive toys she’s created and forcing them to go through a wild fantasy adventure to try and rekindle their relationship.
The game follows on from Hazelight’s last game, A Way Out, in being built from the ground up for two player co-op, with a split-screen style that can shift around and frame the action in different ways. You have to play the game in co-op – there’s no AI buddy as a fallback – and while Hazelight would love you to plop down on the sofa with someone and play locally, they understand the modern world and support online co-op as well, with a free Friends Pass allowing one person to buy the game and then share that experience over the internet. However you play, It Takes Two gives you the same split-screen view of both players, which can sometimes be key to your communication through the game’s puzzle platforming.
It Takes Two builds on the foundations of many accomplished action platformers. There’s running, double jumping and dashing, wall-jumping, rail grinding and grapple hook swinging that runs through the core of the game. In general it’s quite a forgiving platformer, there’s no lives to run out of, and you’re only ever punished by returning to a checkpoint if both of you die together. I would say that I think that the double-jump dash move is a relatively advanced move if you’re considering playing this with a gaming novice.
So, the foundations are fairly unremarkable, but it’s what Hazelight builds on top of them that makes this game so enjoyable. It often feels like the studio has taken every single gaming idea and mechanics they can think of and found a way to wrestle it into the story. One section has you battling wasps in a co-op third-person shooter that’s surprisingly reminiscent of the Gears 5: Hivebusters DLC (this is purely coincidental, but amusing), there’s a romp through a fantasy action RPG, a lengthy plane flying set-piece, abstract co-op puzzle platforming and so, so much more.
What’s just as impressive as the variety is how the game gives Cody (Joseph Balderrama) and May (Annabelle Dowler) complimentary roles. It could be as simple as you having opposite ends of a magnet (the game acknowledges this physics faux pas right of the bat), or it could hand Cody a nectar cannon to glob orange gloop everywhere and May a matchstick rifle to cause them to explode. There’s some surprisingly inventive uses of each gameplay conceit, each one feeling deep and well thought out.
It’s genuinely a lot of fun to discover what each new environment will provide and how Hazelight will explore each new game idea. The irony is that, with the breathless pace and rapid turnover of ideas, some segments feel like they’re on the cusp of running too long and outstaying their welcome. There’s also more than enough rail grinding segments sprinkled through the game. It amounts to a game with a very healthy running time – we’d peg it at around 12-14 hours – and Hazelight really do use every facet of each idea that comes up.
The game’s plot is a rom-com through and through, with a real emphasis on comedy, but in showing how their relationship can come back from the brink, Cody and May come off as some pretty crummy parents and people once they find themselves transformed into dolls. Yes, they’re in a very tricky situation – being held magically hostage by a ridiculous book turned marriage counsellor isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence – but they constantly fight and push back, bickering as they go and often indulging each other’s worst impulses in the vain hope that they can break the magic spell.
Narratively, that’s a bit of a problem. It means you don’t really root for the pair to reconcile their differences and get back together. They might have had good times in the past, but now it feels like there’s just too much spite and selfishness as the only motivation for working together. You’ll absolutely hate some of the things that they do (and by extension that the game forces you to do), and while their characters soften a huge amount through the second half of the game, you’ll have spent a long time thinking that yeah, they probably should get divorced. Rose deserves a happy ending, as the innocent child caught in the middle, but do her parents?
There’s a wicked sense of humour through the story and script, whether it’s the antics of Dr. Hakim, the selfishness of Cody and May manifesting itself, or some of the bizarre situations and enemies they have to overcome. You genuinely feel bad for (and probably a bit grossed out) the demise of the game’s first boss, which just sets the tone for some of the things to come. It’s something you can absolutely believe was lifted or heavily inspired by N64 classic Conker’s Bad Fury Day.
One joy, as you make your way through, is how the game occasionally opens up into surprisingly broad open environments. Hazelight has built a lot of interactivity into the different worlds, whether it’s simply being able to turn off a torch, fling yourself from cannons at a velcro dart board, or take on your co-op buddy in all manner of mini-games. Whether it’s something as simple as whack-a-mole, snail racing, a quick little rhythm action game, or built around contrasting abilities in a head-to-head battle. They’re a lot of fun and a great way to break up the story, though there’s one or two naff ones in the mix.