It doesn’t take two to do many things in life. Though as social as humans are, most of what we do in life is achieved individually. A career, financial success, a healthy life, and our own spiritual life. It doesn’t take two to find purpose. However, from time to time our human psyche will draw us into someone else’s solar system. In some instances we become part of this system like a planet gravitating around the center, closer than we could have ever imagined. When that happens, it takes two to live happily together.
This is the premise of Hazelight Studios’ newest game, It Takes Two. This studio is well known for crafting ingenious games that utilize co-op to its maximum potential. Their previous games are stepping stones towards perfecting their DNA and particular gameplay. Both A Way Out and Brothers contain an engrossing story that players are meant to traverse and experience with another person. From the first game developed by Hazelight, each continues to progress the formula in co-op bringing a fresh, closeness that strengthens not only its gameplay but also the relationship of the players. That is specially present in the essence, material and form of It Takes Two.
At the start of the game, players get to select which character they want to play as. You don’t get any information other than their names, in a way portraying that both are as important. The game tells the story of a family of three, Cody, May and their daughter, Rose. Tension is high at the start of the game as Cody and May are on the brink of divorce. Both have decided to move forward with the separation, except their daughter. The little girl can’t understand why her parents would want to separate and walk away from what they have as a family. Like many kids when a divorce happens, she thinks it’s her fault. The game kicks off the adventure with an early 2000s movie vibe. Thanks to Rose’s tears falling on a pair of dolls she created, her parents are transported to those bodies while they sleep. From here the two players start the journey of magical redemption for the couple.
Developers have crafted this experience to not only show the story through the characters’ very soul but also through the different level designs that the game has to offer. Players get to enjoy the game as a split-screen adventure that you can share with another person right next to you or online. In case you wish to play online with someone that doesn’t own the game, your friend doesn’t have to buy it; you can play with them through a simple invitation.
We begin as Cody and May in the backyard’s shed, where many things have gone forgotten, and have started to become corroded and obsolete. The story touches specifically in this element as it resonates with how the couple has treated each other for a long time and how through those interactions both have formed a justification to grow separate that slowly grows within their hearts. It doesn’t take a long time to fall in love with the game. Every level takes place within a space of the house, and to some extent also portrays the state of the relationship between Cody and May.
“This would never have happened if you hadn’t broken it.” – May
“Well, this would never have happened if you had fixed it, like you promised.” – Cody
The first level is straightforward in terms of gameplay as it will try to teach the player how to move, interact and play, so don’t expect too much challenge in its platform elements. However, this foundation is rather important when the studio probably considered that not everyone trying the game would have a gaming background. Nevertheless, rest assured there will be plenty of puzzles that will keep you entertained on the first level while your friend learns the ropes. At the same time the story of the game will progress and the dialogue is specially crafted to distinguish the problems within the relationship. A constant back and forth will go between Cody and May highlighting how neither of them see the separation as a collective mess. They only see the other at fault. The way the game tries to reunite them will be through the Book of Love, another character in the game. His personality is charismatic, funny and noisy, some people might not like him, but he works for the story. He will guide Cody, and May through steps to fix their relationship. The couple believes they have already accomplished that by getting a divorce, but the Book of Love shows them the contrary.
As I said before, the game uses level design to demonstrate difficulties the couple struggles with, and also the first batch of interactions for players. Looking at this first area, we see what is the core functionality within every other level. There’s stages of platforming, tons of them; small segments with cutscenes, and also a couple of mini boss and big boss areas at the very end, so expect some combat. When I say that the first level demonstrates how the rest of the game works, it’s not to say that there isn’t any variety. Each level has a unique environment that also affects how the player interacts with the world, and how they move around or progress in the story.
Diving deeper in the first area, it’s broken up in different sections. There’s the starting point, or what I like to call ‘Only grasshoppers allowed’. This is where players learn to move, interact with the level, and solve different puzzles. Side note, this is also the place where mischief will start to happen, since it’s a co-op game, and both players depend on each other. Someone messing around to get a few giggles out is bound to happen. After dipping your feet in the early stages of platforming, slowly the level evolves into Platforming 101. In here platforming gameplay will get more creative – even if you’ve played platforms all your life, you’ll find it enjoyable. Finally, the third stage, and final because this stage is what the rest of the game adopts, you get a boss area at the end. You use the powers that Cody and May acquire through each level, but I’ll dive deeper into this later. What makes it interesting is how developers design platforming around the environment. The whole experience invites you to poke around, try different things and explore. While the first level doesn’t demonstrate the amount of creativity that the studio has, it does bring a certain amount of expectation and excitement that will continue to amaze you because the gameplay is in constant change.
Now to the use of powers. To add even more variety into the mix, Hazelight developers also gave the characters a mix of abilities that are replaced by different ones in each level. For example, in the backyard shed level, Cody gains the control of a couple of nails that he can throw and call back with whistles (Kind of like Yondu does with his favorite weapon in Guardians of the Galaxy), while May gets the top part of a hammer. These abilities are essential to work your way through the platforming. Cody in this case most of the time will make way for May. His nails will need to be placed in specific spots so May can either traverse through areas or stop mechanisms that are in the way. May’s ability will be used to work mechanisms that need a nudge to be restarted. All these components working together makes a beautiful and fun sight to see.
However, you will get to do more than platforming and solving puzzles. Many places within levels will have various sections to explore, let’s call them Toy Box areas. Why? Well, like a Toy Box filled to the brim, developers filled these areas with activities, characters and little things to find. These spots are sprinkled generously across the game and their purpose is to invite players to interact with many little trinkets that make the levels more alive. For example, in the second level, The Tree. Cody and May stumble upon a Toy Box area where they can take pictures of themselves using various backdrops and you can actually see the pictures you take hanging on one wall of the tree. Some Toy Box areas are bigger than others and will have a lot more to offer. You can even find easter eggs from other games. If I had to pick one of my favorite things about this game, it would always be the Toy Box areas. They are like small breaks you can take in between the platforming. Here you can run around in any direction. Look around and interact with objects and find secrets behind walls and doors. It is quite delightful. One of my favorite ones is on the last level, where there is a fully functioning piano. The friend that played with me is a musician, so he tried to play a full song. We completely forgot we were finishing the game, and we just had fun with the piano.
It is also in these Toy Box areas where most of the achievements or trophies are hidden, in case you are for that type of thing. I love an achievement that pops because of hidden surprises placed in favor of exploration more than the typical grind of getting 100,000 kills. Boring.
Other activities that you can find not only on Toy Box areas but also between platforming sections are the mini-games. These put both players against the other. It can be games like Guak-a-Cody, small racing sections or even something like musical chairs. To complete them takes like a minute or two, and sometimes you’ll want to replay them a couple of times if you keep getting beaten by the other player (not that I’m talking from personal experience). Though sometimes the mini-games bug out and the outcome might declare a winner that didn’t actually beat the other.
Overall, It Takes Two was made to be a fully co-op experience, and it brings funny and enjoyable moments through different elements.
Back to It Takes Two’s story. It won’t be a sweet fairy tale, like a Disney movie. Oh no, oh boy. This story doesn’t pull punches. It can be sweet, but when it’s time to get nitty and gritty, it’ll get dark, and it will drag you with it, even if you don’t want to. You will not enjoy those moments. Love is not an easy thing. Just as it can be pure, and warm, it can also tear you down. It Takes Two tries to show those dark times. Cody and May, even after struggling and learning about each other, are set on the divorce path, even if to achieve this is at the expense of their daughter. I won’t share too much, as experiencing those gripping moments in the story is jarring, but part of the whole experience. My friend didn’t want to continue playing after one specific section. If you’ve played the game before, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It took me a week to convince my friend to play again after that.
As the story progresses so does the creativity of each level. Each and every one of them are a bright spot of ingenuity, and inventiveness, sometimes you’ll forget that the whole game takes place within the house of the couple. You’ll be transported underwater, to space, or even to north pole inspired areas where you get to ride on minecarts. I know it sounds like it’s all over the place, but believe me it makes sense. Every level takes you through a magical place, it makes you feel like a little kid playing in a grand adventure with your toys. Or as if you were in an adventure between attractions in Disneyland, minus the queue lines. Although the spaces within the game feel small, the trip to get from point A to point B takes longer than what it looks like it should.
I should mention how beautiful this game looks, the art style and design pops and surprises you time and time again. It’s got a wide spectrum of color, and a good amount of saturation in some areas, almost neon saturated. Each section has a nice balance of color and they pop nicely on every surface. Some levels reminded me so much of a Toy Story 3 sequence, in particular because the use of realistic lighting is quite prominent and made that movie even more beautiful to look at. When the light hit reflective surfaces, and how it bounced, it was truly beautiful. Something similar happens with It Takes Two; some levels had that sort of rendering, and I think it was also an intentional move by the developers, as the realistic lighting happened almost at the end of the game, while the toyish look was kept for the beginning. Truly the rendering within this game is astonishing. It’s amazing to see how the light, shadows, colors and other photographic elements play with each other.
As I’ve said in the beginning, this is a game that you’ve got to experience with someone else. It is a must! I promise, the other person will enjoy it as well, even if they don’t play video games that often. The game takes its time to introduce mechanics to newer players, and experienced gamers won’t even feel like they are using crutches to accommodate the newer player. (Just a quick FYI, if you wish to conquer a true platform challenge, look for a high tower in the clockwork Toy Box area you encounter. You’ll distinguish it by its several moving parts. Try getting to the top, just don’t yeet the controller. Enjoy!) Though, it might take them sometime to get used to the mechanics of platforming, it’s easy once they get the flow going. Also their checkpoint mechanic is pretty generous so there won’t be many frustrating moments where if you die several times you won’t have to traverse long distances to get back to where you were.
The only downside of the game might be the length of it – it could take you some 20 hours to complete, depending if you are getting lost in those Toy Box areas searching for every secret. I know 20 hours might not sound like a lot for some, but when you have to coordinate with someone else, how much time there is available and how often can you play, it can take you a while to fully complete the game. Still, it is worth it.
If you like platformers, or co-op games, this is a game you should absolutely try.
Now, should a Catholic play it? I think many can.
Cody and May got lost in their own activities, the daily routine, arguments and petty feelings that led them to ignore each other to the point where they stopped loving each other and collaborating with one another. Many may argue that the game is trying to water down the reasons behind a separation, but it is not. The game tells how their relationship got fractured.
Now it is time to look into ourselves, see our own lives and think. How close do we gravitate towards the Lord? We get caught up with things, life moves quickly, and it’s easy to forget what matters. How’s our relationship with Him? What went wrong? Why? Can it be fixed? Absolutely. Because unlike Cody and May who both ignored each other, God is always willing to listen, and look into our eyes with a warm smile, and say, “welcome back” – no matter what you’ve done.
The game is full of love, self-discovery, forgiveness and understanding. I think it’s worth playing and enjoying.
Art and Graphics: 5/5
(Updated June 2, 2023)
Language: Some language, including but not limited to s*** and taking God’s name in vain.
Violence: Blood is present, as well as characters getting impaled. There is one part of the game in which you throw a toy elephant off a cliff as it pleads for its life.
Magic/Occult: The main characters are working to free themselves from a spell from a magic book.
Sex/nudity: There is a kiss in the game.
Misc: The topic of divorce is obviously discussed, and everything said may not align perfectly with the Catholic view.