A healthy marriage is like the ultimate co-op game: You have to know when to give and take, when to push and pull, and when to talk and when to listen. But most importantly, you must always remember when it’s your turn to take the garbage out – something Hazelight Studios has certainly done during the development of the almost entirely garbage-free It Takes Two. This utterly superb co-op platformer manages to cram in enough unique and exhilarating gameplay ideas to give Shigeru Miyamoto a migraine, with not a single dud among them.
Centering around a pair of pint-sized parents, May and Cody, It Takes Two is a bit like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids if the director had been tripping on LSD. The world around you isn’t merely supersized, but augmented with all manner of fabulous contraptions and anthropomorphic everything. May and Cody’s journey from their garden shed back to their house takes them on dazzling detours through everywhere from outer space to a tiny nightclub housed inside an air conditioning vent (attended by grooving hordes of anthropomorphic glow sticks, naturally), and serves as a sustained, 10-hour-long blast of co-op platforming bliss that’s constantly conjuring up new ways to engage and entertain.One moment Cody and May are collaboratively steering a giant pencil around a connect-the-dots picture, the next they’re casting spells and swinging swords as a wizard and barbarian in an isometric dungeon crawl. Before you know it they’ll be hopping along the tumbling crystalised interior of a kaleidoscope, and just when you think it must be out of ideas Cody will be piloting a tiny plane through the treetops while May squares off in a Street Fighter-style showdown with a member of the local squirrel militia on its wings. It just shifts seamlessly from one brilliantly bonkers style of gameplay to another, each with its own fresh set of mechanics, and almost none of it is ever recycled at any point. It Takes Two is like a box of donuts in your office breakroom: it arrives fresh, is gleefully devoured, and absolutely nothing included in it stays long enough to grow stale.
Co-opportunities for Success
Importantly, every action feels fantastic to perform. The platforming essentials are on point, with May and Cody’s jump, double-jump, and air-dash abilities being supremely responsive and allowing for effortless levels of platforming precision. But it’s the complimentary, character-specific abilities that are refreshed in each chapter that compelled me and my partner to work as a team and make It Takes Two a special style of platformer, turning seemingly simple ascents up the side of a cliff face into carefully choreographed back-and-forths and coordinated chants of “3-2-1-Go!”
Early on, Cody might have a bandolier of nails that he can throw into walls to plot a path of rungs for May to swing between with her claw hammer, while later May can use her water gun to soak fertile soil to allow Cody to plant himself and bloom into a winding flower with petals for platforms. These gizmos and abilities each deftly double as platform puzzle-solving tools and boss-fighting aids: May’s clone ability allows her to teleport from one weighted switch to another to trigger timed mechanisms, but it also enables her to lure a charging bull boss towards an obstacle before beaming herself out of harm’s way at the last second. The only catch to the split ability set is that there are occasionally moments where the enjoyment level is lopsided, where one character is pinballed around an area while the other can only watch, but it all evens out in the end and – if anything – it makes me want to replay it with swapped characters, just to see how the other half lived.
It Takes Two also has the ability to effortlessly make mirth out of the mundane. In real life, my children’s fidget spinners seem like pointless trinkets, the forgotten remnants of a passing fad now cluttering up shelf space. In It Takes Two, they are whirring hoverboards that allow you to surf your way over giant inflatable slides, pulling spectacular midair tricks like a pair of tiny Tony Hawks.Additionally, while a lot of the elements in It Takes Two’s environments are there to serve a very clear gameplay purpose, a substantial amount of objects are interactive for no other reason than because they’re fun. The giant bass drum kick pedal plays no part in you reaching a level goal, but you can still buttstomp onto it and thump its hammer into a towering drum, because it’s fun. The carefully lined-up dominoes in the cardboard castle area might well be a static backdrop in any other game, but in It Takes Two you can topple them all over and knock a hapless small soldier into a bottomless pit, because it’s fun. It’s very much the Mario method of cramming as much magical interactivity into every square inch of each play space, and ensures that your every curious action goes rewarded. The fact that It Takes Two blesses you with infinite lives and extremely generous checkpointing, only makes you more emboldened to experiment.
Book Who’s Talking
The only real gripe that I can level at It Takes Two is aimed squarely at the character of Dr. Hakim. This walking and talking ‘Book of Love’ acts as a guide for May and Cody on their journey towards rekindling the love in their marriage, and he’s basically insufferably cringy right from his first appearance early on, and that doesn’t change in the numerous cutscenes he shows up in throughout. The only positive thing about him is that any time he does appear you know you’re about to be handed some natty new plaything or game-changing ability, so I never felt too sad to see him even if each and every one of his lines had me rolling my eyes rather than rolling with laughter.
Dr Hakim’s appearances aside, I did enjoy It Takes Two’s story overall, especially in the way it neatly takes elements of May and Cody’s reconciliation efforts and weaves them into the gameplay. At one point the pair rediscover their attraction to each other by literally using two halves of the same magnet to puzzle their way through a level, for example. I was quite charmed by the way the two leads gradually learned to love each other again, even if the story’s final moments aimed for Pixar-style poignancy but came off as slightly saccharine.
Of course, a lot of the marriage metaphors went over the head of my 10-year-old son who was partnering me on the adventure, and it made me wish for a game like this that was made more for a parent to share their love of gaming with a child as opposed to a couple playing together. Even so, it didn’t really impact the enjoyment we shared because so much of the contextual bickering and banter between the couple on screen was drowned out by our own laughing and shouting as an impromptu snowball fight broke out or we struggled to cooperatively draw a smiley face on a giant Etch-a-Sketch.