After the grounded reality of his co-op prison break game A Way Out, film director and game designer Josef Fares is returning to the bright fantasy of his studio’s debut game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. It Takes Two follows May and Cody, soon-to-be divorcees who find themselves enchanted into dolls by their daughter. The distraught little girl cries onto two parent-shaped effigies in a desperate attempt to keep them together. Reluctantly sent on a quest to fix their relationship by an anthropomorphic book of love called Dr. Hakim (played in the motion capture studio by Fares himself), they’ll have to work together to survive and return to normal.
Fares has pitched the game as a romantic comedy that owes as much to Nintendo as it does to Pixar. Those influences are plain to see from the outset, with a bickering couple sent on a fantastical quest for a very human reason. The writing makes an odd but engaging pairing with floaty platforming and environmental puzzles. Its vibrant art style is bolstered by charming voice acting and a beautiful score.
Once again, co-op is at the core of Fares’ vision, and this time the pace is going to make or break a relationship. Players have to constantly adapt to each other’s abilities and movements, a stark contrast to the sedate and straightforward flow of A Way Out. No relaxing games of Connect 4 here.
To make up for the game's constant forward motion, there's an almost unrelenting stream of variety. Puzzles and environments can change dramatically on a minute-to-minute basis. Players barely have a chance to learn one set of abilities before they're taken away and switched for something completely different. Spinning so many stylistic and mechanical plates threatens to make the end result disjointed. However, the journey undertaken by Cody and May feels fluid throughout its opening sections.
In the preview build we played, our heroes shift pipes around to traverse a giant basement, culminating in the pair grabbing a hammer and nails. Cody throws nails like spears for May to swing on with the hammer, and May smacks platform counterbalances into place. This establishes a rhythm between players and characters that quickly becomes second nature. Shortly after, the pair are given an explosive tree sap and match launcher combo as they fight through an underground wasp den. This section eschews switch pulling in favour of copious shooting. In between, there's co-ordinated rail grinding and a section in which the pair float through a cave on a gigantic transparent fish. This all happens within an hour.
There are also boss fights that pop up to test your skill with acquired abilities and your communication with each other. After the aforementioned basement stage, a demonic toolbox carves up the floor in between attacks, adding an extra layer of panic. The fight ends if both players are knocked out, but there's a recovery mechanic that will keep both dolls in the game as long as one manages to stay alive.
Like A Way Out, both players are presented with a split-screen, whether playing locally or online. Observing your partner's movements is as important as communication, with some sections in our demo limiting offensive abilities to only one of the dolls.
Despite constantly being pushed forward by frantic set-pieces, there are moments to have a breather and take part in some good-natured competitive mini-games. Also, yes, you can use your abilities on your partner (we lasted approximately 0.5 seconds before hitting Cody on the head after getting the hammer), although friendly fire is thankfully harmless.
Fares admits a deliberate choice to make the game fully linear with no side content or collectibles. This seems to be a decision driven by a narrative economy, rather than any attempt to break from genre tradition. However, this still feels like a further evolution of the developer's signature style. There were minor diversions in Brothers and a significant player choice in A Way Out’s conclusion, perhaps we can expect some subtle story tic here.
The fact that this is a one and done adventure may appeal to some, brevity is often appreciated in this landscape of gigantic open worlds. There will at least be some value in trying out each character; the two sets of abilities we saw in the preview had the potential to shift the experience depending on who wielded them.
The preview build we played was reportedly only a small part the overall experience and there is certainly a lot more evidenced in the recent launch trailer. The artistic variety and relentless pace will attempt to make up for the overall lack of narrative freedom. Fares seems confident as, in his usual brazen style, the director has offered $1,000 for anyone that gets bored of It Takes Two. A bold gambit, but his team has made a game in which one player flies a plane made of boxer shorts while the other has a 2D fight with a squirrel on the wing, complete with flashy a KO background. Let’s hope the game is a success, for the sake of his bank account.