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A couple headed for divorce as their heartbroken daughter finds herself stuck in the middle may not seem like the most thigh-slappingly entertaining concept for a video game.
The game tells the story of Cody and May, a husband and wife who have seemingly reached the end of their marriage. He’s a bumbling slacker, she’s a career-minded workaholic, and while opposites often attract it looks like these two have lost what connection they used to have.
This is devastating for their young daughter Rose, who just wants her parents to get along again. She buys a magical Book of Love written by a chap called Dr Hakim and tries to cast a spell to get them to reunite, but is under the impression it didn’t work.
Little does she know that when her tears fell on the little woollen dolls she’s made of her parents, their souls were magically transported to them (to their understandable surprise).
It’s now up to Cody and May, who are now a couple of inches tall and sitting in their garden shed, to get back to the house and find Rose to see if she can help them return to their bodies. And presumably discover along the way that they still love each other, etc. Probably.
Helping them on their quest is Dr Hakim, who has possessed the Book of Love and regularly pops up in cutscenes to give the pair help, counsel them and occasionally taunt them. He’s played by Josef Fares himself, in the role he was born to play: outspoken, abrasive but ultimately likeable.
Much like Fares’ previous games Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and A Way Out, this is a strictly co-op adventure. There’s no option to play it solo, you’ll need to find a partner to play with you either locally or online.
At its core it’s a typical action platformer, but the sheer number of co-op based puzzles and set pieces that have been implemented – even in just the small two-stage section we played – is truly impressive. It feels like every time you turn a corner you both find yourselves in another new situation where working together is the only way to proceed.
Early on, for example, the pair encounter an old broken vacuum cleaner who’s upset that he was abandoned in the shed and never repaired. Cue a huge variety of vacuum-based puzzles culminating in a boss battle where one player uses one end of a vacuum hose to suck up projectiles while the other holds onto the other end and spits the projectiles at the boss.
“At its core it’s a typical action platformer, but the sheer number of co-op based puzzles and set pieces that have been implemented – even in just the small two-stage section we played – is truly impressive.”
To ensure things remain fresh throughout, players will occasionally be given new equipment for certain stages. In one section we played, for example, one player was given a hammer while the other was given the ability to throw magical nails that can be called back.
This introduced a host of new ideas: the hammer could be used to hit switches while the nails were used to hit distant targets, but the two could also be combined with one player throwing nails at the wall while the other player uses the hammer’s head to swing from them and reach new areas.
Before these new mechanics are given a chance to become tired, they’re ditched when you reach a new area and replaced with something else entirely: in this case, one player is given a gun that fires sap and the other is given a gun that fires lit matches.
Once again, these have multiple uses, both on their own and combined. The match gun can be fired at targets while the sap gun can be used to weigh down some platforms to lower them, or alternatively, you can cover something with the sap gun then fire the match gun at it to light the sap and cause a huge explosion.
The latter is at its most entertaining during a mini-boss battle with a bee who’s holding a large shield. The aim is to get one player to attract the bee’s attention while their partner fires sap at their back, then get the other player to distract them while their partner lights them up.
One thing that should be noted with It Takes Two is that this is certainly not an easy game. During a Q&A session held with press, Fares was asked if this was the sort of title that beginners could enjoy and he made it clear in no uncertain terms that it isn’t. From what we’ve played, this checks out.
This may come as a disappointment to some, because given the game’s plot it’s understandable that some couples may wish to play the game together. This will only work if both players are experienced at gaming: if your partner doesn’t play many games you can pretty much forget it.
Voice communication is also important for this game. We played it online without voice chat but while we made it through to the end there were moments where it would have been beneficial to have had mics activated: situations where one person doesn’t know what to do, for example, or set-pieces that require precise timing from both players.
“During a Q&A session held with press, Fares was asked if this was the sort of title that beginners could enjoy and he made it clear in no uncertain terms that it isn’t. From what we’ve played, this checks out.”
We’re also a little wary about the two protagonists and how their relationship is going to change as the game progresses. At the moment it seems to be headed down a fairly clichéd path where the man-child husband and his no-fun wife will likely realise why they loved each other in the first place and everyone will live happily after, but with Josef Fares at the helm this is no guarantee and part of us hopes he messes with convention.
After all, the game may be based on rom-coms, but if the likes of La La Land, My Best Friend’s Wedding and Pretty In Pink show, they don’t always have to have happy endings.
So far, we’re thoroughly impressed with what we’ve played of It Takes Two. If it can continue to show this level of creativity for its entire duration we could be looking at one of the finest co-op adventures ever created. If it can do this while throwing in a few surprises during what at the moment looks set to be a predictable story arc, then all the better.