Cooperative video games have always been a bit of a tough nut to crack, with many developers coming up with their own distinct methods of cracking them. Some games don’t separate single player from coop at all and just let multiple players go through the same campaign. Others craft a separate and typically smaller experience meant for coop play exclusively. And others still are massively multiplayer and generally expect players to group up into large parties.
But Josef Fares and the team and Hazelight Studio have a very different view of what a cooperative game should be like, and their latest, It Takes Two, is shaping up to continue pioneering this new breed of coop-only adventure games, and maybe even in the process, bring a pair of former lovers back together.
It Takes Two – Screenshots and Art
It Takes Two is a cooperative-only action adventure platformer, but even to leave it at just that wordy description is doing the game a disservice. Much like Hazelight’s previous game, A Way Out, It Takes Two largely adopts the genre of whatever the story calls for. In the first level of my demo that I got to play with Josef Fares himself, things began very traditionally with the two characters, Cody and May — a divorced couple that get transformed into dolls by a magical book of love — awakening in a workshop shed. With Josef taking control of May and me guiding Cody, we had to make our way through the shed, hopping over boxes and chasing after a runaway fuse using all the familiar 3D platformer fundamentals: Double jumps, wall jumps, butt stomps, and so on.
The platforming itself controls well and the challenges are pretty straightforward, but where It Takes Two really shines is when it introduces segments that require coordination and cooperation between the two players. A real standout is the latter half of the first level where May picks up a hammer while Cody grabs a nail. With the hammer, May is able to swing across gaps, but only if there’s a nail sticking out of the wall. Cody meanwhile is able to throw and call back a nail, leviathan axe-style, and can use them to not only give May grapple points, but also pin objects to the wall. It’s a fun dynamic that could probably be further developed into its own coop puzzle platformer game, but here it’s just a small slice of a larger cake you just eat a quick bite of and then move on to the next one.
Another fun genre shift is when Cody and May get wrapped up in a war between squirrels and wasps and are outfitted with a pair of complementary guns: Cody’s shoots sticky flammable sap, and May’s launches matches to ignite said sticky flammable sap. Much like the hammer/nail segment, there’s a really fun process of each character having to figure out what their tool is capable of, communicating that to their partner, and then coming up with a way to figure out how to use the tools in tandem in order to find a way out of the room. For example, obviously the sap gun could be used to explode a barrier when ignited, but if left alone, the sap could also be used to weigh down certain objects, opening up a path for May to jump across a gap. May could then also use this knowledge to remove weight from something by igniting the sap to further open up the path.
The demo wrapped up with an exciting chase that had May in the gunner seat of a plane as Cody piloted their way out of the wasp’s headquarters. Once again, it was a segment that relied on careful coordination as the gunner had to not only fend off enemy planes, but also had to clear a path for the pilot by burning down barriers that blocked off an escape route. And if that wasn’t enough, the level concludes with an epic fight against the squirrel commander atop the plane in the style of a 2D fighting game, which filled me with all kinds of jealousy as I was relegated to piloting the plane while Josef got to style on this poor squirrel.
It’s not all just cooperative, buddy-buddy, fun though. A lot of the enjoyment that arises from true coop games are the laughs had when, whether intended or not, a moment of betrayal sends you flying into a puddle of death, or crashing into the abyss when that nail you thought would be there suddenly gets called back, or locked in a torture box with no way to escape other than the other player letting you out. Needless to say, these moments are inevitable in It Takes Two.
And if these moments ever cause you to get to a point where you just wanna have it out with your coop buddy, much like in A Way Out, there are also a number of competitive minigames that you can face off against each other in. The one that I got to play was a variation of whack-a-mole where I was the mole and got points for keeping my head up, while my partner got points every time they managed to whack me. It was a lot of fun, and I got to make Josef sweat, because even though he beat me, it was only by one point in a come from behind win.
All in all, It Takes Two is shaping up to be exactly the kind of follow up to A Way Out that I was hoping it would be. By designing a game that is uncompromisingly intended to be played with two players and two players only, Hazelight is able to play with coop mechanics in ways that haven’t really been explored in any other game quite like this. Thankfully, it will also come with a friend pass system that allows a player who owns the game to invite someone to play with them regardless of whether they own the game or not. So start thinking about who the Cody to your May will be, or vice versa, because It Takes Two will hit PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PCs on March 26.
Mitchell Saltzman is an editorial producer at IGN. Follow him on Twitter @JurassicRabbit