Almost a year after winning what can be considered the most important award in the video game industry, the GOTY of The Game Awards 2021, we will try to see what reasons helped this game to win the prestigious award in the It Takes Two review.
This is a weird game that has been able to conquer all with the sole strength of his ideas. Of course, a colossal publisher like EA was behind it. Still, the game by Hazelight was built in a small laboratory under the guidance of a creative with a volcanic temperament. We know how these ingredients can give life to both incredible feats and resounding slips.
Josef Fares and friends, though, aren’t precisely newbies: apart from experience gained by the author in the film industry, being first and foremost a director, the team already made itself known with a couple of games that have achieved considerable resonance as Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and A Way Out, but not at the level reached by It Takes Two, which is confirmed to be the summa of the creative path of Hazelight, and the most successful representation of a persistent idea of Fares and friends: the multiplayer cooperative game.
This formula, in its most pure interpretation, lies the secret of the success of the project, which was able to bewitch in a short time millions of players, even if not particularly zealous in ruffling the general public, given that the theme of the story is almost a taboo for many, or at least as a subject to be told in a video game.
It talks about a couple in crisis, a divorce looming and the dramatic repercussions of this in the balance of a family destined to break, with a desperate desire of the daughter. In the classic style of the family films of the 80s, she can perform a magic trick and transform the parents into animated dolls, obliged to work together with renewed harmony to return to their lives.
Even in contrast between the heaviness of the theme and the facetious tones of the gameplay, you can see something strange, well away from the canons imposed by video game blockbusters. Still, we must also add the quality of the game itself and the fun that can arise, in an unexpectedly perfect balance of parts.
Between heavy and free flight
Apart from the fun sprung from the action on the controller, the thing that strikes most in It Takes Two, watched as a whole, is his ability to tell a story, heavy to digest with the flair of an adventurous teen movie of the 80s, or Pixar cartoon.
Let’s face it, there is something bizarre in the way the subject is treated, betraying perhaps a somewhat naïve approach on the part of the authors, but that’s also Fares’ trademark, and look at one of his historic speeches in front of the cameras at the Game Awards to understand that we’re not dealing with a subtle balancer of psychological tension.
So, the history of It Takes Two alternates between moments of great intensity to scenes of humor that can make you belly laugh, even putting in the middle of the situations so absurd as to make you uncomfortable (the sadism of the scene of the elephant can be impressed more than you might think), the sign of a writer not too balanced, compared to specific mature and deep scripts that we find now, especially in the indie scene.
However, in this strangeness, Fares’ genuineness can be found: his celebrated middle finger to the video game majors – which is even more amusing because his games are published by EA – never seems to be linked to a well-calibrated communication strategy.
He is not a histrionically constructed histrionics, but just a sort of crazy splinter who, with this play, fully demonstrated his genius, even while maintaining obvious imbalances in a tone that are reflected in the alternation of dramatic, moody and just plain crazy scenes, with a basic message that is perhaps not even entirely correct (separation and divorce are issues of such depth and complexity that they cannot be simplified into a series of coordination tests to get back together, even if the idea is still enjoyable).
Making it all the more explosive, this odd pastiche between Kramer vs Kramer and Honey I Shrunk the Kids just happened to be based on masterful gameplay.
We play together
We are so accustomed to chasing performances that we’re displaced by cooperative multiplayer that requires total coordination even to perform seemingly basic actions. On closer inspection, apart from the direct competition that has become so prevalent in video games, even co-op is structured to achieve specific objectives, helping each other to gain some personal advantage.
Not many games require us to rely on each other to overcome obstacles against which we are essentially powerless on our own, as we can only tackle them by working in pairs with perfect harmony.
In many respects, it takes two is reminiscent of the days when lacking a structured multiplayer, you had to share the controls of a single joystick to find the perfect understanding. “I shoot, and you go”: that’s the level of collaboration that Hazelight’s game requires, and that’s great to find especially playing in shared screen presence, but even with a good friend in headphones.
The base setup is already interesting, but the ability with which this has been expanded and shaped throughout the entire game is also impressive. The game is a continuous surprise, a series of brilliant ideas applied to the level design, so much to make it incredible that this is the first attempt ever, Hazelight, to try his hand in a 3D action platformer since previous titles were structured in a very different way.
Apart from a remarkable technical realization, backed by an artistic direction that is always very consistent, the one that surprises is the quality of controls that are placed by the parties of Nintendo titles in terms of response and feedback, something that is essential to support gameplay structured precisely on the varied interaction with the scenarios.
In addition to all this, there is a frantic pace of ideas and different situations that really make it impossible to get bored. In the long run, the recycling of “gimmick” emerges eventually. Being continuously jolted from one situation to another, in scenarios completely different, do a little ‘lose the thread of a meaningful progression, placing all the game design in the service of the ideas proposed in individual micro-events, resulting in an effect that may seem dispersive, but it characterizes the entire gaming experience.
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Never take anything for granted
In that sense, Hazelight’s choice of subject matter reveals its genius: ”It Takes Two” is a 3D platformer that is atypical because it continually presents new gameplay solutions, so there’s nothing evident in its structure, and each level is a surprise that must be understood and tackled together.
Placing on scene two quarrelsome characters, who cannot stand each other, makes much more sense than the usual pairs of close-knit and winning characters. With each new challenge, they have to figure out how to act without initial disagreements and find a perfect agreement after a few attempts, perfectly transferring on the screen the feelings of the players themselves.
The couples of heroes of video games (Ratchet and Clank, Banjo and Kazooie, Jak and Daxter, to name a few) are worn out and tempered by years of experience, know exactly how to move as a couple to face adversity and make the most of their respective skills to overcome problems.
Cody and May have no desire to go on incredible adventures together; they’re not out to save the world and probably not even their marriage, either, initially: they want to get back to normal and overcome as quickly as possible the absurd challenges they are subjected to by Dr Hakim’s “obnoxious” Book of Love. Thus, they tackle the obstacles with a spirit mixed between improvisation and adaptability: “let’s try this way, rather do that, I do this, and you do that”.
Thus situations emerge that we would never have had the chance to see in a game structured according to a standard canon: to kill a vacuum cleaner by sucking out its eyes or to condemn to “death” a tender little elephant are situations that emerge consistently with the situation in which the two find themselves, in an emotional progression that is truly unorthodox but enthralling.
Reactions of the two unfortunate adventurers reflect a bit ‘those of the players themselves, so it happens for the enthusiasm in overcoming adversity that is, thus, more genuine and credible.
The Takes Two is a game that may seem naïve in terms of construction, storytelling, and dealing with an important subject. Still, precisely for this reason, it is frank and genuine: it leaves many of the canons and superstructures typical of modern games, setting aside heroes and worlds to save as well as a straightforward compact progression for proposing simply the joy of playing together, allowing players the pleasure of discovery and the freedom to try, to fail and finally succeed, trusting each other.
A concentrate of surprises
In other games, we are used to seeing an idea holding on his shoulders an entire level, sometimes very long. Still, It Takes Two changes rules and points of view continuously and often in a sudden, unexpected, surprising. In it, you’ll find scraps of gameplay from a dozen different games, plus all-new things, of course.
One minute you’ll be flying a plane made out of underwear, escaping armed squirrels like in the Star Wars that George Lucas never had the guts to write. The next, you’ll be grappling with what looks more like a two-dimensional platformer where the laws of gravity are subverted. Skill challenges, puzzles, pitfalls, bosses, platforms, chases, killer bees, physics turned upside down: a new idea every five minutes and a new way to collaborate.
But the coolest thing is that once you run out of ideas, you run out of the game. It takes two even longer than A Way Out: we can touch the ten hours if we engage in mini-games and exploration, but the hours are intense, constantly revolving.
Experience then is not difficult, but that does not mean that it is necessarily simple: we say that it is perfectly calibrated to offer a worthy challenge without ever being too bad, also thanks to the abundant checkpoints. Then there is not a real game over, as even in the worst cases, you return to the game with minimal waiting and just a few meters from the obstacle that had caught us in a foul.
To help us catch our breath, it hides in It Takes Two several mini-games (there are about 25!) extremely funny, mainly when they will be encountered organically along the adventure. Once unlocked, they can be replayed freely by selecting them from the main menu. A round of applause then to those who decided to record wins and losses of each game, so if the pair of players or one of them will take it personally, the challenge on the favorite mini-game can continue even after the adventure.
These are simple yet very effective pastimes, as in the tradition of the best Nintendo: there is one in which he has to get out of the trapdoors, and she has to give him the hammers in the head, another in which you have to shoot at moving targets to send them against the opponent, and yet another that instead sucks us into a sort of multiplayer Battlezone, in addition to all the others that we let you discover for yourself.
It Takes Two uses the same dynamic split-screen system seen in A Way Out. In these games, the screen is mostly split in two, even when collaborating online, so that everyone sees what the other is doing in real-time. Sometimes, this split-screen changes fluidly for narrative or gameplay needs, without any interruption whatsoever. It is a device, as we said already seen, here used less than in the past, but it works and seems to have become a real hallmark of Hazelight games.
Playing on PlayStation 5, It Takes Two is a game really very lovely to see, completely free of slowdown. However, it does not expose itself with who knows what geometric complexity. We say that there is much more style than polygons. Maybe, in this case, it’s a shame: graphics are not everything, but we can hardly hide the desire to one day see a game like this but with dizzying graphics, a luxurious orchestrated soundtrack.
It Takes Two deserve it more than so many other products that stand on their pharaonic budgets, to which Hazelight and Josef Fares don’t have access. Suppose the only way to make it happen is to continue to support similar products. In that case, if the quality achieved on the third attempt is that of It Takes Two, it should not be an effort for anyone to do so.
It Takes Two Score: 8.7/10
No doubt the best game of Josef Fares and his Hazelight Studios. His strong characterization, his wanting to challenge Pixar, and in some ways, even Nintendo, at least trying to attract their attention, shows the side of a budget that, of course, does not hold up to comparison but that proves undoubtedly deserving.
If it was just gameplay, you could be content to remain an awesome independent game. But here you fly much higher, and consequently, you notice the incredible untapped potential. It has to be played: pick the right person and don’t doubt for a moment. Remember that you only need one copy of the game to play it together online; you need to download the appropriate pass, just like with A Way Out.
- Only one copy to play with two people online
- It never ceases to amaze
- Excellent characterization of the characters
- Aspires to a quality that it cannot afford but would deserve