With the Jump'n'Run It Takes Two, the developers at Hazelight Studios once again demonstrate enormous courage: You force two players in front of the screen together - either online or locally. Best locally. Then this platformer can really develop its qualities. The fact that you want to force gamers to play cooperatively is a trick that is once again unfamiliar. At least as unusual, however, is what you find behind the brightly colored presentation: a profound, multi-layered, playfully varied and emotionally charged adventure hopscotch, which must be understood as a declaration of love to couch-co-op.
With It Takes Two, Hazelight Studios are again relying on A Way Out (2018), a purely cooperative work that is aimed at exactly two players. Once again, game maker and director Josef Fares is in charge - and he insisted on placing a suitable Easter egg in It Takes Two.
As befits a Hollywood filmmaker, the story plays a central, if not necessarily superordinate, role in the new platformer. What is behind It Takes Two is a little more reminiscent than the melancholy flicks from the late eighties - but it's a lot more fun here.
A book to rule them - and to bind
A divorce, a sad daughter, a lot of emotion, the wish that her parents had changed their mind and a magic book are the ingredients for the background story of It Takes Two. A kind of voodoo and the body swap then lead to the fact that you could turn it into a game in which exactly two players have to spend time together.
Instead of having to break out of prison, as A Way Out demanded of the players almost three years ago, the gambler duo now has to lead doll parents back to their house and reconnect their souls with their bodies. Now you could have guessed that It Takes Two would also be at least innovative. It was uncertain whether there was also a high quality game behind it - after all, A Way Out was also a great idea with a rather solid implementation.
So this time everything has been left out that is not conducive to direct gaming fun. What remained was the almost perfect basic structure for fun: there is jumping, rolling, flying - the game mechanics keep changing. Hazelight Studios happily avail themselves of all possible genres and use them to build a platformer in which secondary tasks do not play a role. Two players go straight through brightly colored worlds online or in split-screen mode. What they always have in common is a common goal.
The gameplay is embedded in a setting that constantly oscillates between funny, stupid, crazy, wondrous. Without ceasing. Again and again, players are confronted with sometimes strange situations or characters. Freud would have really enjoyed the game - and probably also the thought processes of the developers who are behind the ideas of this title. At least the story components hidden between the lines are not as magical and colorful as It Takes Two presents itself at first glance. Again and again you come across messages, but sometimes you also come across content that is almost overwhelming: Scratching your head, you wonder how the hell you as a developer can invent robot wasps of all things or make household items appear creepy and wacky in a strange way.
After all: it works. You get into conversation more than once with your play partner, who is often silent with other titles. What It Takes Two does better than almost any other modern video game is to connect players in the physical world - through what they experience together in the virtual world. You have to assume that Fares and his team have something like ingenuity, there is no other way of explaining why that works with a simple jumping game, something that developers in profound drama games have had their teeth on for decades.
It takes two forces conversations
And so that it doesn't just stop at talking, you also have to deal with each other on a playful level. You wait for your partner, help him, advise, plan the next steps. "Multiplayer" mode takes Hazelight Studios to a completely new level: In many MMORPGs, great cohesion is preached as a necessity. In the end, everyone runs around alone, but at least in a crowd. With It Takes Two, you don't make such promises, you force the players in front of the screen together - co-op then comes naturally.
The requirements for cooperative play are not only rudimentary: it is always about reacting to what the other is doing - and vice versa. A player opens the way through the environment, the partner follows. Hard to believe, but true: You won't reach your goal on your own, no matter how hard you try. At Nintendo you will probably look enviously towards Playstation, Xbox and PC as well as Electronic Arts and Hazelight Studios: What It Takes Two presents here is what Nintendo has stood for for decades: unrestrained, colorful family fun.
This is supported by all the content from the child's world of thought: toys, dinosaurs, a cardboard castle. Then there are the other rooms in the house, which are transformed into spacious play areas that are populated by what one would find in them in everyday life - sometimes realistically, sometimes childishly exaggerated. On the Xbox Series X - our test system for It Takes Two - everything runs smoothly at 60 FPS. And it's hard to believe either: The action-adventurous jumping game looks terrific in split-screen mode. The other half of the screen is not missing, you always look over it anyway, at least when the game lets you.
Otherwise, It Takes Two is wonderfully calm. The title takes players by the hand, even if it is not completely linear in the end, because players are given a little bit of freedom over and over again. There's exploration, if not on a par with Super Mario Odyssey for Nintendo Switch. Instead of collecting stuff and glittering brims - Director Josef Fares can't do anything with it - you are rewarded with terrific mini-games.
In each chapter, new skills await Cody and May, Rosi's parents in their alternative doll bodies. Again and again, players have to fiddle with new tools, combine them and discuss progress. The solutions to the puzzles are often obvious, sometimes tricky, and almost always involve tasks of skill. And the magical book of love explains how players can use their skills wisely to get closer to each other again. The topic of divorce always hovers over everything - you can already guess at the beginning how satisfying it will be to reach the end of the game.
With a simple trick, Electronic Arts and Hazelight Studios make it clear how valuable collaboration and togetherness are: If you play It Takes Two in online mode, only one player needs a copy of the title. Despite its brightly colored look, It Takes Two is not necessarily child's play - the USK's age recommendation suggests that you will encounter one or the other content that is not entirely child-friendly, never brutal, but sometimes bellicose. It Takes Two only gets brutal if you play it with a partner who has never held a gamepad in his hand in a lifetime. Then the divorce issue comes back to the fore.
Number of players: Multiplayer (2)
Age: USK 12
Difficulty: easy to medium
Long-term motivation: low
Sub-genre: action-adventure platformer Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Hazelight Studios
Official Website: Link
Year of publication: 2021
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox Series X | S
Cost: 39,99 Euro
There is no better way to make a cooperative video game. This simple conclusion hits the nail on the head, as players nail their way into the wall as the game progresses (you'll see). What Hazelight Studios conjure up on screen is a declaration of love for couch co-op. If you want to get the most out of It Takes Two, you should definitely play via split screen. Online is also possible, but direct communication is almost the essential experience of the jumping game, in which the developers consistently oblige players to cooperate.
It works because the gameplay works - and because the technology allows it. The controls are precise, all actions can be carried out smoothly. This is especially important in all those moments when the right timing is important. It is a pleasure to wander through the colorful, varied levels, to discover new ideas again and again.
With their design, the developers demonstrate an originality that is often sought but rarely found. All of this is embedded in a real story, which is not necessarily ripe for an Oscar, but at least bridges the gap to Hollywood with “fuck the oscars” (you'll see).
The fact that Hazelight Studios got such a perfect work off the ground with their debut in the platformer genre deserves respect. There are many words of praise for It Takes Two, but in the end the only thing that counts is: You have to play it yourself. One must!
By the way: Like hardly any other title, It Takes Two received the accolade through its mini-games - because even these are terrific. Which game can claim that?