Sunday, May 30, 2021

It Takes Two (PS5, XBS, PS4, XB1, PC) Review

As we approach the end of the month and are smack-dab in the middle of a holiday weekend at least here in the States, SuperPhillip Central has two more reviews to round out May. Our first is a game which has a name that isn't just there to be cute. No, It Takes Two literally requires two players in this awesomely creative and fun co-operative game. Here is the SPC review, which unlike this game, just took one person to complete.

Double the co-operative trouble

Hazelight Studios continues to be one of the best developers under the Electronic Arts umbrella (though that isn't to lessen my opinion of any other dev). Its last game, A Way Out, offered a unique co-operative hook to it, and now its next game picks up with that title left off with another co-operative game, though of a more cozy and quaint feel. It Takes Two is a more heartwarming at times, other times not so much title that brings a cavalcade of gameplay styles and ingenious co-op scenarios that work much more than they don't. It makes for a game that offers one of the most enjoyable and amusing co-operative experiences I've had the pleasure of playing in ages. 

It Takes Two is a tale that deals with a potentially dicey and touchy subject: that of divorce. It stars two parents named May and Cody, and their child Rose. When Rose gets the word that their parents have decided to separate, Rose takes two dolls crafted to resemble her parents, and begins to cry onto them. This results in some sort of magical, fantastical reaction where May and Cody end up taking on the traits of and turning into the dolls. "Helped" by a magical talking book--and I do need to put "helped" in quotations, at least at the start of the game--the two need to figure out how to work together--collaborate--and get out of their current scaled-down predicament and discover a way to return to their real bodies.

One of my major criticisms with It Takes Two is that the game suffers from a bit of tonal whiplash. One moment it's extremely tender and charming, something appropriate for children and young adults, really, but then the dialogue will throw in crude humor or a bunch of curse words. By no means am I Tipper Gore, exclaiming "what about the children!" but it's just unneeded, really. Further, there are certain moments in It Takes Two that certainly shows a lot to dislike about both main playable characters. It's perfectly fine to show them as having flaws, but it gets to the point where both become quite detestable, plotting and doing things in the game that seem incredibly heartless, especially to the feelings of their own daughter. So, when the two eventually do start working together and getting along more, it doesn't really feel natural or that earned. Still, it's a charming game for the most part, and has a story and writing that usually hits more than it misses. It's just that when it misses, it whiffs completely and was a tremendous turn-off for me.

One main thing to get out of the way immediately is that It Takes Two is a co-op only game. There is no way to feasibly play it alone, so if you're a lone wolf who enjoys playing games by themselves and solely by themselves, then you're not going to get any mileage out of this game. A shame, for sure, as It Takes Two is one of the most creative, entertaining, and innovative titles of the year. However, fear not if you feel you actually want to play It Takes Two but perhaps don't have any online friends to play it with. 

Explore and survive in fantastical worlds as the friction-filled couple: May and Cody.

For one, each purchased copy of the game comes with a Friend Pass, which can be gifted to another online player, so you can either give the pass to another online buddy or make a new online buddy in the process via that free pass. Now, players who use the Friend Pass cannot earn achievements or trophies, which might be a sticking point to them. Otherwise, both players should have a copy of the game if achievements and trophies are important to them and their playing experience. Other than online play, local co-operative multiplayer is also available in It Takes Two, and this was my preferred way of playing. It was reminiscent of playing games as a child with my older brother, and that's exactly who I played It Takes Two with, though the jokes and banter that we riffed one another while playing was more adult this time around, certainly!

It Takes Two's main characteristic is that of a 3D platformer. May and Cody have the ability to jump, double jump, dash forward--either on the ground or in midair--to evade attacks and other hazards, run, and even swing along special hooks and grind on rails Sonic the Hedgehog-style. Sometimes in It Takes Two May and Cody will find themselves inside a hub-like area, an interconnected large-scaled room with plenty of exploration to be found. Inside will occasionally be entertaining competitive mini-games to be discovered, such as a tug-of-war, a game of chess, volleyball, or target practice, or a race of some type. Other than mini-games that are sprinkled throughout the seven chapters of the game, you'll find a plethora of interesting sights to interact with. Some of these are hidden well and unlock various achievements and trophies for accessing them, so there's plenty of replay value and discovery to achieve in It Takes Two.

As for the seven chapters in It Takes Two, well, perhaps the best phrase to utter for this is "oh, the places you'll go!" May and Cody begin the game in their home's outdoor shed, and eventually must make their way to their home to attempt to make contact with their daughter. They'll be thrust through all sorts of scenarios and places, from entering a gigantic tree to being transported inside a snow-bound land which just happens to be a magical snow globe. Thus, you really feel like you've been put through the ringer and having been through a grand adventure by the end of It Takes Two. Heck, even midway through the game you'll feel like you've been through a grand adventure, only soon realizing that you're hardly halfway done in the game's 10 to 15 hour runtime.

Puzzles like this, platforming challenges, and more await our pair of protagonists in It Takes Two.

It Takes Two, as Dr. Hakim, the Book of Love himself would utter, is all about collaboration. As the phrase goes, it takes two to tango... and play through the game... and survive... and so on and so forth. Everything in the game requires both players to communicate, collaborate, and work together to progress. Generally, both players work together in the same space, but there are multiple occurrences in the game where May and Cody are split up, requiring them to use their current tools or skill sets from afar to help the other player progress.

On many occasions, the co-operative aspect of It Takes Two features an asymmetrical brand of gameplay. This is most prominent when the two receive various tools from Dr. Hakim. One early chapter features Cody brandishing a cannon that launches a golden gel that when May fires upon it will explode, thus destroying obstacles and enemies in their way. Another chapter gives May gravity-defying boots to run up specially marked walls and ramps, while giving Cody a special belt that allows him to change size at will, from teeny tiny to massive in scale. Both of these tools interact with the environment to help players work together to solve puzzles in quite ingenious ways.

With these two asymmetrical tools, Cody fires off a gel and May blasts it to create an explosive result!

What makes It Takes Two so wonderful and brilliantly executed is that there is no shortage of gameplay styles experienced throughout the game. The mainstay of the 3D platformer is always present, but the game loves to throw in alternate styles to keep things fresh--this also happens constantly. One might find concern with this because usually when a game provides so many different gameplay types it becomes a "jack of all trades, master of none" situation, but that surprisingly couldn't be further from the truth in It Takes Two! Each gameplay mechanic introduced throughout the game could pretty much be iterated on further to make a full game just from that mechanic. 

I've heard of "Dog Day Afternoon" but is this more of a... "Frog Day Afternoon"?

These scenarios are so expertly executed and fun to play in, whether piloting a plane where one player controls its flight while the other mans a turret, controlling a "boat" (in actuality, a lid of a barrel) through water rapids as one moves around the boat to push it forward and the other defeats explosive larvae swimming in the way, or engaging in an adorable and literal ode to dungeon-crawlers like Diablo as one player assumes the role of a wizard and the other a knight to do battle in a top-down isometric perspective area. Regardless of the scenario, each simply works and feels great to play. And if for some reason you ever grow tired, bored, or even annoyed with a specific gameplay instance or mechanic, you won't ever have to wait long for it to be cycled out and replaced with something new. 

Cody serves on point as a cactus turret while May can get more up, close and personal with these foes.

The puzzles in It Takes Two, as you may have guessed already, also require plenty of communication and collaboration to solve them. Puzzles are plentiful in the game, and these offer myriad opportunities for players to test their teamwork, mash their mental muscles together, and end up with a hopefully satisfying solution and result. While none of these puzzles exactly perplexed my older brother I too terribly much, there were a select handful that had us scratching our heads, wondering what to do. However, even if an obvious solution evaded us immediately, we found ourselves enjoying bouncing ideas and possible solutions off of one another, until finally reaching what the game intended the two of us to do. These "a-ha" moments totally reward both players, and coming to a solution through both of us working out a problem together is really one of the most rewarding parts of the game and one of the most rewarding things either of us had done together in a game in a looong time. That's a mighty big compliment to you, It Takes Two.

This goes for the boss battles as well, which always required the two of us to work together and perform different tasks to take down each colossal creature and fearsome foe that was placed in our paths. Really, bosses were something my older brother and I looked forward to immensely, as these encounters were exceedingly creative, more so than the last. Much like the adventure itself, each battle raised the stakes and the level of creativity exponentially. 

The boss battles in It Takes Two are certainly the bee's knees--excellent and awesome!

It Takes Two is a gorgeous, gorgeous-looking game. The various worlds and areas are extremely detailed with lots of places to take a break and admire the scenery and amount of love and care put into the game. Sometimes all of this detail can be a negative thing, with the consequence of some obvious slow-down and frame-rate issues that occasionally rear their nasty head into the game, at least in my gameplay experience on the base PlayStation 4. However, these generally were rare. The voice acting and music are absolutely delightful, and while I would make a point that the two parents are somewhat detestable as characters (and parents at least when they're in doll form), their banter is rather well done and entertaining.

By the end of our 15 hours with It Takes Two, my brother and I found ourselves pretty much of the same opinion. We both enjoyed the excellent gameplay variety and how Hazelight Studio nailed each and every one of the gameplay mechanics and ideas presented throughout the game. We felt we had been on a massive and rewarding adventure, but also agreed that the tone of the game was all over the place--and to a detriment to the overall feel of It Takes Two. Control-wise, we both never felt out of sorts, and even the camera--a usual sticking point for so many games of this type--seldom caused us issues. And even if it did, deaths always brought us back to nearby checkpoint which meant that never was there a time where we lost a lot of progress. Ultimately, It Takes Two is a brilliantly and exceedingly creative adventure with myriad well executed gameplay styles, occasional tonal whiplash and frame-rate issues, but at the end of the day is one of the absolute best and most fun co-op gaming experiences I have ever had.

[SPC Says: A-]

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