Electronic Arts, PS4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC
Ispired by family-in-peril adventures like Frozen, this engrossing if didactic puzzler uses old-fashioned teamwork to great effect
영형ne of the big cultural stories of lockdown is how friends are staying in touch and having fun through game worlds. The time is right, then, for the latest two-player adventure by the Swedish-Lebanese designer Josef Fares, whose games blend puzzles, synchronised action and emotional narratives into co-op challenges that require more from the participants than simply pulling two levers at the same time.
The story in the Fares-directed It Takes Two is clearly inspired by family-in-peril animated adventures such as Toy Story, Frozen 과 Madagascar. A young girl is upset that her mum and dad are divorcing and, when she cries on two dolls she has made, her parents’ minds are transferred into these miniature cloth and clay bodies. Guided by a talking relationship self-help book named Dr Hakim, they must work together to get back to their daughter, save their relationship and reverse the spell. 그것은, in effect, Honey, I Shrunk the Marriage Counselling Session.
Through a series of beautiful domestic environments – from a workshop, to a garden, to a home – It Takes Two offers an engrossing two-player challenge built from clever asymmetrical puzzles. Combining platforming sections, racing elements and some mental teasers, the game often has one character doing the running, jumping and climbing while the other prepares the route. This might mean firing a nail gun to create handholds on a wall, or completing an electric circuit while the other person hits a button. Crucially, players must talk and plan, and the characters are often given different gadgets that need to be used together to be effective; in the garden section, one player uses a bazooka that shoots highly flammable honey (don’t ask, just go with it) while the other fires matches to ignite the globs of gooey liquid.
Unfortunately, although the game is a joyful, chatty experience to play, the story is mawkish, unsubtle and deeply problematic. At the beginning, a series of cutscenes tell us the parents have amicably decided to divorce, but we’re not told why or how. We only know it makes their daughter sad, so the adventure to restore their relationship feels manipulative. We’re seemingly being told that no matter how dysfunctional a marriage may be, it must be saved to prevent psychological harm to the child.
More is revealed as the game goes on, and there are moments where the parents spot their daughter but can’t quite get to her, which has nice allegorical connotations but is simplistic and didactic. While Pixar and Studio Ghibli will gently hint at the value, rewards and challenges of family life and love, It Takes Two bashes you over the head with its laboured messaging. The fact that your guide through the game is a talking book is a crushingly on-the-nose affront to the old maxim: “Show, don’t tell.”
If you can ignore all this and concentrate on the experience of playing, It Takes Two is a truly engaging family adventure that develops into a considerable challenge. The skilful combination of game conventions and fresh ideas is the real marriage at the heart of this unusual adventure.
• It Takes Two is out now; £34.99.