When I think back to the last generation of consoles, there was one particular experience that stands out to me as the most memorable, wholesome, and enjoyable evenings I spent playing a video game. Josef Fares’ follow-up to the gut-punch of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was A Way Out. Unlike Brothers, a coming-of-age story about siblings, which was, in essence, a co-op single-player experience where both brothers are controlled by the player simultaneously, A Way Out is an intensely co-operative experience where your partner is essential.
Just as Vincent and Leo needed each other to escape the prison and start life anew on the lam, I needed Press Start’s own Shannon Grixti to help me see the journey through. It was unique and unlike anything we’d played before, so to hear that Fares and his team at Hazelight were back with another quirky, buddy-game in It Takes Two, we couldn’t wait to reunite the band.
Where A Way Out felt like a far more grounded, gritty crime drama, It Takes Two has a fantastical, Pixar-like premise that sees a married couple, Cody and May, on the outs forced to band together when they’re—to borrow a Frinkian term coined on The Simpsons—debigulated and soul-swapped into the pint-sized handmade clay and wood dolls of themselves their daughter had cobbled together. Through the magic of a sad child’s love, the two awaken as miniatures and set off on a journey to reverse the curse along with the help of Dr. Hakim, a magical book for marriage-reconciliation that absolutely isn’t the Kama Sutra like I initially thought, voiced by Josef Fares himself.
Right off the bat, the tone and humour of It Takes Two is just fun as heck. It takes something as devastating as a marriage breakdown and turns it into something colorful and boisterous. I hope Fares doesn’t continue the trend of bummer-note endings and closes It Takes Two on a hopeful beat because I can see the game as a healing adventure for battered bonds. From the two levels we got to play, I got a sense of those cliche romantic-comedy narrative beats, so I hope there’s a happy ending coming for Cody and May.
With A Way Out having taken all of the risks, It Takes Two benefits from being able to iterate on the formula and fine-tune it. It maintains the focus on co-op and togetherness while introducing a lot more classic video game elements: it’s a platform game, it’s got shooting, you solve puzzles, and you even pilot an aircraft made from a pair of ever-aerodynamic love-heart boxer shorts. I’d say it’s all things to all gamers. It’s a game that offers just about everything and crafts entire mechanics around these small, throwaway moments. The chapter focusing on the age-old war over the backyard tree climaxes with May squaring off Street Fighter-style with a dictatorial squirrel dressed head-to-toe in Castro’s nationalist threads. The game seems full of these small, fleeting nods that defy genre and it certainly keeps the player on their toes.
While it was a memorable romp and I recall it quite fondly, A Way Out didn’t compel me to revisit it. Based on two levels alone, It Takes Two already has me chomping to experience things from the flip-side of the coin. Each task that leads to the next door in It Takes Two is a two-person, collaborative effort that fits the theme of the level. The game’s first level, the Shed, arms May with a hammerhead she’s able to leverage to catapult Cody to otherwise impossible heights as well as swing from carefully-placed nails Cody is able to spear into trouble spots like a trained Javelin athlete. Although the solution of every given puzzle will remain the same and there’ll be nothing new there, being able to experience the other perspective gives the game the allure of replayability that most co-op games miss the mark on.
Ultimately, It Takes Two just feels really good to play. A big old grin was a permanent fixture on my face while every moment ran into the next. There’s a cinematic quality to how the big, cartoonish set pieces play out, and the game’s flawless network code makes the co-op experience a seamless one. Not to mention, EA’s Friend’s Pass initiative returns from A Way Out, meaning only you or your friend need to purchase the game, which is already pretty cheap, for you both to enjoy it — it’s probably a necessary selling point for a co-op only game, but it’s consumer-friendly dynamite nonetheless.
A far cry from the drab and world-worn colour palette of A Way Out, full of its earthy, outdoor tones, It Takes Two presents itself as an animated feature out of the studios of Pixar. It’s strikingly bright and the design is imaginative right across the board. Although we sampled only two of them, it’s clear every level in It Takes Two will have a real personality to it — perhaps it was the google-eyed hammer pleading for help in ending the rule of the tool shed’s menacing toolbox, but what I did play actually gave me Banjo-Kazooie vibes. It’s fantastically wonderful in just about every way and I look forward to absorbing more of the weird, wonderful creatures that’ll adorn Cody and May’s quest to rediscover themselves.
To say I’m excited to continue the journey is an understatement. The fact it’s a heartfelt story about reconnection and mending fences speaks to the co-op nature of the whole thing. Although I tend to gravitate toward single-player experiences, Josef Fares is a game designer who’ll forever be an exception to that preference — a reminder to me shared experiences like It Takes Two can be the most wholesome, important, and memorable ones of all.
To borrow half of a Swedish proverb: “Shared joy is a double joy.”
It Takes Two releases for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows on March 26, 2021.