After pushing co-op back into the mainstream with its previous award-winning effort A Way Out, Hazelight is now back, and it has shifted its attention this time to the romcom genre. It Takes Two might seem like a huge departure in tone with its colourful Pixar-like visuals, but the focus is still well and truly on co-op gameplay. Recently, game director Josef Fares pledged to give $1,000 to anybody who got bored of this latest experience, so naturally, we jumped at the chance to give it a go ahead of release to see whether we could take him up on his offer.
It might feel like an odd mishmash of Freaky Friday and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, but It Takes Two's whimsical story has a real emotional gut punch to it. In its opening sequence, we're introduced to dual-protagonists Cody and May, two parents who are on the verge of separating due to their fractured relationship. Upon announcing their impending divorce to their young daughter, Rose, she retreats to her bedroom and makes a wish that the two could smooth over their difficulties. Cody and May later find themselves imprisoned inside two handmade dolls and must work together to try and reverse the spell placed on them.
I should note right off the bat that It Takes Two is purely a co-operative adventure, and it cannot be played in single player. Fortunately though, you don't need another friend who also owns the game as it contains what is known as a Friend's Pass. The Friend's Pass enables you to buddy up with a second player either online or locally, and I personally feel that it is a really smart and consumer-friendly move on behalf of Hazelight. Sadly though, the game doesn't support cross-play co-op, but it is cross-gen, so those on PS4 and PS5 or Xbox One and Xbox Series can play together, for example
It Takes Two's gameplay is perhaps described best as a cinematic puzzle platformer. Something I loved about the game was how co-op felt like an integral part of the experience. Its puzzles have been crafted with co-op in mind from the ground up, and it really shows, as you need to work as a team to advance forward. Often one player will have to platform their way ahead whilst the other is responsible for completing puzzles and clearing any oncoming obstacles. Failure can easily occur here if both players aren't actively communicating and paying attention. It's actually really clever, as the team-based gameplay acts as an excellent metaphor for the two working together to restore their failing relationship.
What was great too was that Cody and May had their own specific abilities to help keep the gameplay feeling fresh for both different players. During the latter stretch of the demo, Cody was given a throwable nail and May was given the head of a hammer. During one section, for example, the player commanding Cody had to fire nails into planks of wood on the wall, whilst the player acting as May had to swing across them using the head of the hammer. Hopefully, similar mechanics will be introduced as the game progresses as they compliment each other well.
The entirety of the action is displayed here in split-screen whether you are playing locally or online with a friend. Personally, I thought this might get distracting at first as you don't have a full view of your entire screen, but it was something that worked to grow on me. Being able to see your partner's full side of the screen is advantageous, as you can get a view of alternative routes that they have taken and you can offer clearer advice if they get stuck.
The boss encounters here were a real spectacle as they were hilariously designed and introduced their own new set of mechanics. We fought against a sentient vacuum cleaner that sent shockwaves of dust towards us and a rusty old toolbox that proceeded to remove the ground beneath us with whirring buzzsaws. These encounters felt really distinctive, as they pushed us to work together to expose their weaknesses and inflict damage. When fighting the vacuum, for example, one player had to vacuum up its explosive projectiles and the other player had to angle the other end of the vacuum to be able to hit it in the face.
Along our journey to return back to our human selves, we also encountered several fun and short mini-games. One of these saw us race to try and flip as many switches as possible, with one of using the hammer and the other the nail. Another was hilariously like a human game of whack a mole. Sure, these are nothing revolutionary, but they added a fun competitive element into the mix, which isn't otherwise present in the main gameplay. What's great too is that when these are unlocked they can be played right from the main menu.
Sadly, it doesn't look like I will be becoming $1,000 richer any time soon, as I ended up thoroughly enjoying It Take Two's novel approach to co-op. Playing together with a friend feels integral to the experience and I really enjoyed how each character has their own different abilities. The game looks to be an absolute delight and I have my fingers crossed that it is able to keep up the same level of momentum throughout the rest of the story. You'll have to check back for our full thoughts when It Takes Two launches March 26, 2021.