Josef Fares might have a reputation as that one guy who once said “fuck the Oscars” on a Game Awards broadcast, but beyond his meme-worthiness and lack of filter, he’s an incredibly talented developer with a knack for using the interactive medium to tell stories in unique ways that only games can do. In particular, his games have always focused on relationships between people, both in game and real-world players. Coming later this month, It Takes Two is a co-op only game, a romantic comedy platforming adventure that follows a couple who are turned into dolls and forced to work together, despite having marital struggles.
We had an opportunity to go hands on with the first couple hours of It Takes Two, following Cody and May as they try to figure out just how they became dolls and what it will take to get them back into their human bodies. The visual influences from animation studios like Pixar are immediately apparent, and Fares acknowledged as much in a short interview prior to our gameplay session. But more so than just visually, It Takes Two really captures the heart of those kinds of films. The circumstances are heavy—situations that are at times almost uncomfortable—but the writing pulls everything off in a really charming and comedic way.
Plans for a divorce come to a screeching halt when Cody and May find themselves on the floor of their shed, little more than a few inches tall, and hounded by an anthropomorphic relationship self-help book who calls himself Dr. Hakim. While the couple just wants to find a way out of this nightmare, Dr. Hakim forces them to confront aspects of themselves, each other, and their relationship. First up? That old vacuum that Cody ruined and May promised she’d fix, but instead got shoved away in the shed in favor of buying a new one.
It Takes Two Hands-On Preview – Relationship Goals
Talk about couples therapy! Being a co-op only game—no single-player at all—I sat down with my wife to go through the first few levels of this experience with Cody and May. She took on the role of May, now a wooden doll, and I was Cody, who had become a blob of clay vaguely resembling a man. Fares and his team at Hazelight created an absolutely brilliant set of scenarios, with gameplay that speaks to the ongoing story. The mechanics shift and change as needed, even giving the two players different roles and requiring them to work together in order to proceed.
In the shed area, after learning some of the basic platforming foundations, May gets the head of a hammer (who is a character himself, and talks throughout) to swing from things and smash objects, while Cody gets access to nails that he can throw into objects and whistle to recall to his holster. These tools need to be used in creative ways to proceed through puzzles, and can also be used to grief each other a bit. Cody and May quickly realized that they can’t die, so being impaled by a nail or smashed by a hammer become a lightly entertaining outlet for the couple’s frustrations as they begrudgingly partner on this adventure. This aspect is further accented by competitive minigames between the two, like “Whack-a-Cody,” where Cody pops his head out of a series of holes in a box, and May tries to smack him with her hammer. There were a few others along the path too, optional little games that allow you to break from the cooperation for a moment.
Eventually, they come face to face with their old vacuum that was never fixed and May’s angry toolbox that was trapping all of her unused tools. These characters (yes, the vacuum and toolbox are characters) become boss battles, representative of deeper conflicts between Cody and May. Obviously we didn’t get the full scope of where things are going, but Fares says this is a romantic comedy, so we can expect to see quite a few great twists, turns, and lessons learned during the full 13-14 hour adventure. Even just these first couple of hours were full of great banter back and forth between the two—both small jabs and deeper moments—even in between the bigger story beats. It really captures the nuances of a what a real relationship would be like.
The next part moves from the shed into the big tree in their yard, where Cody and May become embroiled in a war between the squirrels and the wasps that Cody never got rid of. Cody is provided with a sap gun that can shoot out a flammable and sticky sap. May gets a match gun that can shoot matches. This combination is pretty explosive, literally, and the puzzles and battles all rely on the pair working together. Again, the dynamics of these new mechanics means gameplay stays fresh moment to moment, and the experience is different between the two characters. At one point, it even shifts to one character flying a makeshift plane (the squirrels stole Cody’s underwear to use for wings) while the other battles it out on top of the flying plane in the style of a side-scrolling fighting game.
It Takes Two Hands-On Preview – A Balanced Relationship
Particular care was taken to ensure that gameplay is always more fun than frustrating. It might seem like playing a co-op game would be an exercise in patience, but It Takes Two is designed in such a way that the balance never falls too much to one side or the other. It certainly benefits from communication and being able to sit on the couch next to your co-op partner, but the cooperative mechanics aren’t too obtuse or difficult to pull off, so it never leaves one or the other player feeling frustrated. With the ever changing mechanics, both players are constantly learning and discovering on this journey together, and fast respawns and generous checkpoints means failure typically isn’t too punishing. That’s not the intention of the game, after all.
It Takes Two’s detailed and vibrant environments are a joy to explore from the perspective of the miniaturized Cody and May. My wife and I were constantly calling out small details that made up this incredibly creative world. Along the way, Cody and May are also commenting about the world around them, their current situation, and their wider relationship. Along with the ever changing gameplay mechanics, this made It Takes Two feel consistently interesting and engaging. At least during this early portion of the game, I never ran into any areas that overstayed their welcome before shifting to something new.
It Takes Two is one of the most creative action platformers I have ever played. Using required co-op is a brilliant way to engage the players in the experience of these characters, who are being forced to work together despite having drifted apart. Everything from the writing to the gameplay to the production is absolutely top-notch, and the worst part of the preview was that it had to end while we so desperately just wanted to keep being Cody and May.
It Takes Two is coming March 26th, 2021 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. Hazelight has confirmed that the next-gen versions won’t have any special enhancements outside of basic upgrades to resolution, frame rate, and other technical improvements. Like with A Way Out, players will only need to purchase one copy of the game to play with a friend. Each comes with a Friend Pass that allows you to gift access to a friend you want to play with. It’s set to launch at a $39.99 price both at retail and digitally. PS4 and Xbox One players get a free upgrade to the next-gen version.
It Takes Two hands-on preview provided by EA via digital event. Previewed on the PC build of the game. Our final It Takes Two review later this month will be played on PS5.