Josef Fares is quite the character. The eclectic game creator, who founded Hazelight Studios, went from being obscurity to a household name with gamers thanks to his now-infamous “Fuck the Oscars!” speech during the 2017 Game Awards. His sense of humor and infectious joy about gaming has made him into an icon within an industry full of stuffy talking heads.
His latest game is a multiplayer platformer called It Takes Two, and it hopes to bottle that energy for wide consumption. Fares’ previous games included the tragic Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and the straight-faced prison escape genre piece A Way Out. But It Takes Two is a laugh-out-loud romantic comedy that feels like a playable Pixar movie. It just might be Fares's best work yet.
Inverse went hands-on with It Takes Two and found a legitimately hilarious, touching, and often brilliant multiplayer experience that’s ever-changing. If the full game lives up to the same quality in the first few levels, It Takes Two could very well be the best multiplayer co-op game since Portal 2.
Fix your relationship
Early trailers for It Takes Two made it look like a goofy cartoon that’s less heady compared to Fares’ previous games. But the game is driven by emotion just like A Way Out, but it's saturated in enough bright colors that things don't ever feel overwhelming. The game focuses on a married couple on the brink of divorce. By a magical twist of fate, the parents are turned into tiny dolls that must work together to get back to normal.
It’s a genius marriage of gameplay and story, giving a narrative reason for the game’s multiplayer-only gameplay. The players guide their characters through what feels like a slapstick marriage counseling session that’s as clever and inventive as Pixar’s Inside Out in its meta approach to the human psyche.
Fares said he wanted to make a romantic comedy because he felt like it was a genre video games never dare to touch. The game's early levels rise to that challenge with finesse. The jokes are funny, the characters are memorable, and the emotional beats are effective. The game’s opening moments will leave you more than a little misty-eyed, which itself feels like a nod to Pixar's propensity to sucker punch you with emotion at the very start of a story.
Where the game truly shines is in its two-player gameplay, which expands on several A Way Out mechanics. It Takes Two utilizes a similar split-screen view where each player has unique tasks to perform. Instead of sticking to grounded realism, It Takes Two benefits from a heavy dose of whimsy. Players get to do a lot more than just climb through tight passages or hide in laundry bins.
The demo begins with some basic platforming, which feels as precise and responsive as it needs to. Things feel even better once players get their first set of tools. In the first level, one player gets a hammer and the other gets a nail. Each has a completely different function that requires close teamwork. For example, one player can throw a nail into a wall, allowing the hammer-wielder to swing across a gap with the claw side. Meanwhile, the hammer player can pound a button, sending their partner hurtling into the air.
That makes for some smart puzzles that had my player two and I talking out loud and having eureka moments together. Solving a puzzle on your own is satisfying, but having the epiphany with a friend is even better.
It Takes Two doesn’t seem to overdo any one mechanic so far, so the design cleverly avoids a pitfall that far too many platformers fall prey to. Rather than forcing us to rely on those same tools, the next level makes you combat a swarm of wasps. I could paint bees with a sap gun, allowing my partner to explode them with a matchstick. Right when the hammer and nail mechanic may have started to feel old, It Takes Two swaps over to a new idea equal in its cleverness, complexity, and fun factor.
The most promising aspect of the demo is how much it encourages you to replay as the other role. When my partner and I got the first set of tools, I immediately said, “Aw, you got the cool one!” to which they replied “What are you talking about! You get to shoot nails!” These little pieces of interaction make it feel like It Takes Two will be worth playing twice for a good reason.
"No shiny shit!"
Fares himself emphasized Hazelight’s approach to “replayability,” a term that he especially hates. Rather than filling the game with (in his own words) “shiny shit” to collect, his goal is to provide an interactive world worth playing in rather than dumping a checklist of arbitrary things for players to collect.
That philosophy can be felt throughout the levels, which are filled with optional interactions and mini-games for players to try. During one mission, my partner and I came across a Polaroid camera in front of a little story set. We spent a good five minutes toying around with it and taking shots, despite the fact that it had no bearing on the story whatsoever. There are also little games like tug of war strewn about, which break up the pace and give partners brief burst of competition.
It Takes Two is inspired by Nintendo platformers and that influence is felt in how the clever levels radiate a feeling of joy. Perhaps the most direct comparison is Astro’s Playroom, a game where it’s apparent how much fun the developers had when making the game. It’s easy to imagine Fares and the team at Hazelight cracking themselves up as they devised a fight scene against a squirrel in the style of 2D brawlers like Street Fighter.
I had few expectations for It Takes Two following the game’s bombastic first trailer, but I left the demo fully charmed. I was fully invested in the story and eager to see what new mechanics and discoveries Hazelight could throw at me next. If the final game maintains that fast-paced level of creativity, It Takes Two could very well become one of the finest co-op games ever made. You may want to force a friend to commit to a playthrough now, so you'll be ready for this potential masterpiece when it's released in a few weeks.
It Takes Two will be released on March 26, 2021 on PC, along with Xbox and PlayStation consoles.