After playing the two-hour preview of It Takes Two, it's difficult to remember everything I saw, but all for the right reasons. I fought a giant sentient vacuum cleaner, traveled on the back of a giant ghostly catfish, destroyed an entire wasp civilization, and had an action-packed fist fight with a squirrel on top of a flying plane. It's been a trip.
It Takes Two's creative director Josef Fares announced recently he would give $1,000 to anyone who got bored playing It Takes Two, and, after playing the preview, he won't be giving it to me (and believe me I thoroughly searched for a reason). Playing the two-hour snippet of what will apparently take around 14 hours to finish, it felt like I'd played ten different games. Even with all the wildly different mechanics and systems, however, It Takes Two still manages to stay cohesive.
Following in the footsteps of Hazelight Studios' previous prison break game, A Way Out, It Takes Two is a two-player co-op romp played in split-screen, but this adventure has a much lighter tone. You and your partner play as parents Cody and May, who have been magically transformed into dolls after breaking the news to their daughter that they're divorcing. A failing marriage wasn't quite the set-up I imagined for a happy-go-lucky romance comedy, but It Takes Two brings a lightheartedness to the story as the two traverse strange worlds and work together to break the spell and return to their daughter.
"The playstyle and variety of mechanics fit well with a romantic comedy," Fares says. "Its fits well that it's a relationship and that you play through the craziness of wackiness of the game together. There are definitely some serious aspects to it, and I know there are scenes that people will react to, including tough decisions the parents make."
Guiding the duo through It Takes Two's eccentric world is the equally eccentric Dr. Hakim, a moustachioed, anthropomorphic self-help love book. He appears throughout the adventure to give the couple love advice and insists that the two will find their passion for each other again through cooperation, a method which the couple is less than happy about.
The exaggerated character of Dr. Hakim was inspired by an ad that Fares saw in a newspaper. "It was such a silly thing and said, I am Mr. Hakeem, I can help you with everything in your life, whatever problem you have. He was so cheesy and over the top," says Fares. "I decided that I had to use this character. He's a real person so I'm gonna call him one day."
Fares says that Dr. Hakim is not to be taken seriously, but Like Cody and May, I'm not a fan. Even without the creepy realistic teeth, human eyes, or constant gyrating, the caricature of a stereotypical 'love doctor' that Hazelight has gone for is very over the top and ends up being straight-up irritating. His talk of having Cody and May just 'find their love' for each other really oversimplifies their situation and I would be pleasantly surprised if the couple got tired of the doctor altogether and teamed up to defeat him as the final boss—a fight I would relish.
Outside of these awkward love lessons, It Takes Two quickly gets you back into the action. It feels like Hazelight has gone wild with all the different game mechanics and the variety is impressive.
The first location has you exploring a garage, with Cody and May given a hammer and nails to help through some puzzle platforming. The main technique is for Cody to fire nails into a wall so May can swing on them with the hook of the hammer—but this is just one of many ways that this combination of tools is used. Sometimes, May will have to break some glass bottles blocking the way, or Cody will have to fire a nail into a target to keep a revolving platform in place. There's a lot going on, and I haven't even talked about the rail grinding and circuit breaker puzzles. And before you can get sick of them, the game switches to a new set of mechanics.
"All the levels have unique mechanics, depending on who you're playing," Fares says. "70-80 percent of the game, you're playing something unique. I believe narrative games can sometimes become repetitive, and I don't like repetitiveness. It should always be that you experienced something new. I feel like I've done a mechanic enough and I want to do something new."
Co-op feels fun and frantic, and just like in A Way Out, there are several mini-games for you to indulge your competitive streak. This time, they're a bit more engaging than playing Connect-4 in a hospital waiting area, thankfully. Cody and May sometimes have their small squabbles, but it's mostly playful banter, and the gameplay echoes this dynamic. Online editor Fraser Brown joined me on this shrunken adventure, and though I beat him at whack-a-mole, it wasn't long before he got his revenge in other mini-games.
Having worked on A Way out and Brother's A Tale of Two Sons, I ask Fares if he'll always focus on cooperative games. "I think it's an unexplored area and you can do so much stuff there," Fares says. "When you have two characters that you control, you create an interesting dynamic. Not only a dynamic in the game, but also on the couch, and from a creative aspect there's so much to be explored."
There are also plenty of action sequences where cooperation is key, like controlling a raft over cascading rapids or traversing a subterranean neon mushroom kingdom. It often feels like you're in the middle of an action-packed Indiana Jones set piece rather than a romantic comedy.
I'm not wholly convinced about the love lessons that it's invested in, and Dr. Hakim's constant gyrating will haunt my nightmares, but It Takes Two is looking to be a great co-op adventure. A nice touch is that you only need one copy of the game for two to play. On consoles you can invite friends to play, and on PC the game supports Steam's Remote Access Play Together, making it easy to play online with a friend.
I'm honestly surprised at how much happened in the preview, and from the look of the trailer, there's plenty more to come when It Takes Two releases on March 26.
I asked Fares if he'll keep true to his $1k payment to anyone who finds it boring. "It's not out yet but, trust me, they won't," Fares says. "They have to genuinely feel that, but nobody will. It's impossible to get tired because there's so much stuff going on. It won't happen, but yes, if someone genuinely does that, I'll give them $1,000 for sure."