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Save Points #2: It Takes Two (2021)

Posted Over 1 Year ago by Jet Presto
Directed by Josef Fares

Developed by Hazelight Studios

Published by Electronic Arts

Available on PS4, PS5, XBox One, XBox Series S/X, Windows

In an industry that weirdly seems to lack a wide array of “auteur” game directors, Josef Fares has emerged as one to keep tabs on. Previously creating the spectacular indie fantasy Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and the interesting co-op only A Way Out, it’s clear Fares has a focus on unique mechanics. His latest game expands on the emphasis on co-op play, taking players on a rather intriguing journey.

It Takes Two requires two players, as the name would imply. Controlling bickering married couple Cody and May, players work together to get through each level utilizing a whole new set of mechanics each time. The result here is a series of levels that can sometimes be a bit of a mixed bag. Some levels feature abilities that are fun and engaging; that also highlight some element of the central narrative. Each character gets a specific power and players must use their unique abilities to work together to get through the puzzles, maps, and levels themselves.

Very interesting concept that works far better than it should, but there are some hiccups here and there. Some powers are not particularly fun, or one power is clearly more compelling to use than the other. This is especially true in the last two worlds, where this issue is compounded by the fact that the game is really dragging by that point. Still, more often than not, these individual worlds are well designed and feature very clever powers and level designs that sometimes even enhance the story.

To be sure, the thing most glaringly questionable about the game is that story. Cody and May are married parents whose relationship appears to be on the out. Their daughter attempts to fix their relationship by buying this self-help book for couples, then somehow accidentally turning her parents into miniature clay and wooden figure versions of themselves. This magical, whimsical tale lends itself well to a captivating and gorgeous art style. (Arguably, the game looks its worst when Cody and May are human again.) The only way to regain their original form and repossess their bodies is to work together through these elaborate, expansive worlds that will have you asking yourself, “Why is there a lantern fish in this snow globe?” (Obviously, this game is not meant to be taken literally. If you can’t handle this level of mystical chaos that has no answers or reason, you might have a miserable time with it.)

While the game is certainly embracing a more allegorical tone prioritizing gameplay, level design, and visual style over coherent logic or cohesiveness, it also isn’t exactly subtle. Within moments of playing the first level, it’s painfully obvious that the game wants to tell this story of this dying relationship being salvaged via this epic, fantastical journey together. Advancing through the game, it does appear that Cody and May become a little more capable of working together, but nothing really points to them having a romantic component that can be saved. At some point, it really becomes uncomfortable to recognize that the game is almost certainly going to have them fall back in love and decide to stay married, even though they were clearly better off divorcing at the start of the game.

Fortunately, the game doesn’t necessarily step into this trap of its own making. To be sure, the game certainly ends in a way that makes it feel awfully much like they’re going to decide to stay together; still, it doesn’t explicitly state that. It’s somewhat ambiguous ending does lend itself to being interpreted to mean that they’ve not so much settled on a rekindled romance, but rather one of a mutual respect for a separation and an effective and loving co-parenting situation.

Of course, the ending is kind of confusing when you remember earlier events in the game. See, while the ambiguity of the ending leaves it up to players to decide if Cody and May remain married, it is clear that their daughter is distressed and blames herself. It is genuinely touching and heart-wrenching to see her trying to run away so that her parents “can be friends again.” Sadly, this isn’t an uncommon emotion felt by children of divorcing parents, and indeed those couples splitting up are often very conscientious of reassuring their children don’t feel it is their fault.

Yet as the newly reformed human parents assure their kid of how much they love her, one can’t help but remember a very messed up sequence in the middle of the game. At some point, Cody gets the idea that it must have been their daughter’s tears that turned them into clay and wood. Thus, he argues, they would have to make her cry again in order to turn back. They accomplish this through what I can only assume was meant to be a darkly comedic series of events in which they brutally murder her favorite stuff doll. And I mean brutally! Like, ripping off her legs and ears one by one as she pleads and begs for her life. The entire sequence is played in a tone that could only be described as, “If Mr. Magoo were Leatherface.” It’s certainly presented in a comedic fashion, where the intention is deliberate but the method is accidental and clumsy. It’s never meant to feel “comfortable,” but it’s strange to think they might have intended for some form of laughter.

Really, the issue isn’t so much the sequence itself and how it is presented as much as it is that it literally never gets addressed. They never apologize for it or even own up to committing the atrocity! There is a mid-credits panning camera that shows the elephant with a band-aid on its head, as if that is enough to settle that thread. Sure, none of this stuff that happened was real in the literal sense, but that doesn’t change the fact that for players consuming the fiction, it is.

Smartly, Hazelight puts smaller teams to work on each separate section. They are not all created equal, however. Some segments are much better than others, with better level and world designs, more fun interactive side content, and more cohesive application of powers. Quite possibly, the best segment features both players getting a different polarity magnet. That’s the easiest power set to represent something metaphorically about their relationship, of course, but it does serve to highlight how clever the game can be when it is hitting on all cylinders.

Conversely, the late game worlds feel kind of tacked on, and eschews the more balanced approach of the past levels to ones more focused on a specific character. The garden to showcase Cody’s desire to develop his green thumb feels imbalanced and its powers are a mixed bag. The subsequent music level to show May’s love of singing also feels like they couldn’t really even settle on one set of abilities.

It’s certainly true that not every level is great, not every power is engaging, and not every story element works or feels particularly comfortable, it still works far better than it should. A good co-op game can be hard to come by, especially one that isn’t just “single player mode, but with another person.” It Takes Two offers a unique experience that has a lot of ideas for how to approach such a game. With a fascinating design philosophy, beautiful animation style, and solid gameplay, it’s easy to recommend even despite its occasional hiccups and pacing issues. Bottom line is: no one is making co-op games quite like Josef Fares. If you like playing games with your friends where you work together to accomplish an objective, he’s absolutely a game director to follow. These games are not always perfect (and arguably, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons remains his best work), but they’re always interesting and worth playing.

Reductive rating: Solid fun for a good time with a buddy!

There are 1 Replies

Thanks for sharing the review.

I heard of the game being good but never tried myself.


Over 1 Year ago
Lord Denida

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