It Takes Two is a wonderful co-op game. The latest effort from Hazelight Studios is a joyous adventure packed to bursting with variety, endlessly bringing you new settings, scenarios, and gameplay. It's a rollercoaster ride with some truly memorable moments throughout its runtime. However, there's one scene in particular that stands out for most players. We need to talk about Cutie the elephant.
If you're reading this, we trust you know what we're referring to. After being transformed into dolls by their daughter Rose's tears, divorcing parents Cody and May reason that they must make her cry once again in order to reverse the spell. To do this, they decide to kill Rose's favourite toy: an elephant plushie named Cutie. After battling their way through a magic castle, they find the saccharine stuffed animal and proceed to drag her to her doom, kicking and screaming, her leg and ear yanked off in the process. It's protracted, disturbing, and ridiculous. We had to know more.
After reaching out to Hazelight about this scene, we were able to speak to none other than Josef Fares himself — the outspoken writer and director. In the below chat, he argues his case for the Cutie scene, as well as responds to the game's reception and teases the studio's next project.
Josef Fares: Alright, you want to talk about Cutie?
Push Square: Yes please!
Cutie, the lovely elephant. You're from England!
Yeah, that's right.
Yes, so then you should have a big understanding of dark humour.
Actually it is, in a sense, inspired from British humour. Dark humour is very popular in England, obviously, so there's definitely a link there. But the whole thing — I mean maybe you want to ask the question first.
Sure. So the main reason I wanted to talk to you is this Cutie scene. From what I've seen online, there's been quite a big reaction to it, and I knew there would be. When I was playing the game with my girlfriend, her reaction to the scene… Her mouth was agape as we dragged the elephant kicking and screaming. I knew this would get a reaction online, so I just wanted your view on this scene that's quite tonally different from the rest of the game.
Yeah. In a sense, it is [tonally different], but in a sense it's not, I would say. Because something we're trying to do at Hazelight is always make sure that whatever happens in the story will be reflected in the gameplay. So I keep saying that. Obviously I'm super happy about the reactions, but one has to remember that every mechanic itself is tied to the gameplay. So the whole idea is, you're in a tree, you meet those squirrels, you use their weapons. And when you find a fidget spinner, you use that. Everything you see, it happens in the environment you're playing. Which is another big reason; because of the story, that you have to kill Cutie, then you actually have to play it. So in a sense it's not very different in tone, it's something that happens in the story, but you're actually playing. However, it might be a different kind of scene, obviously!
We kind of knew that this scene was gonna be a bit harsh. I still today really love that scene, I think it’s very important for the characters. The whole idea is having [Rose’s] super cute stuffed animal that you have to kill, and the reason is this. The parents have become so egoistic and totally forgot about what’s important for them, that they are ready to go this far to actually do something like this.
I've seen some streamers when they're playing it, they're screaming so high and loud when they're playing, so they’re missing all the details in what the characters are saying. [The parents] are literally saying, "We're gonna need therapy after this, this is so horrible", so they are aware that they're actually hurting this little stuffed cute elephant, but it's still something they have to do. They have no choice. They truly believe that, to make her cry, they have to kill that elephant. Actually, it's a good thing people are reacting to this. I think it's something that creates an impact.
You have to understand, without spoiling, scenes like this have been in Brothers and A Way Out. Not scenes that are violent, but scenes that upset people. For instance, the ending of A Way Out, I still today get reactions of people really upset, and say, "Why couldn't I choose not to do it?" But that's the whole point! You have to do it. And it's the same thing with this game. In this scene with this beautiful little cute elephant, this is something you have to do. And you see some players almost hate the parents, like, "How could you do this?"
And also, the whole idea is that Cutie is fixed in the end. Maybe it wasn't that clear, but in the end credits, you see she's fixed, so she was taken care of.
I would still have to say that, we knew there was gonna be a reaction, but not this kind of reaction. But I love that scene, and you clearly see the people that get the dark humour of that, they really understand it. But I think it's a beautiful scene. When people get upset, in a sense we've succeeded to make an impact of what we wanted with the parents. You have to understand, when you're playing a game, you have feelings. People mix up that, if it's a good feeling, then it's good. They don't accept that, if it's a bad feeling, that is also [good] storytelling in gameplay.
It's interesting, because, in A Way Out, we had a scene where you torture a guy and use so much different equipment, throw him around the room, whatever — nobody reacted to that! And now it's a small little toy, and it's a huge reaction! But I totally understand that people are reacting, and I can respect people's opinion that they can't look at it, or whatever, but I think it was a very important scene for the story.
After playing that part, I thought that it must be a purposefully pivotal moment, because before then, Cody and May are still antagonistic and not really getting along up to this moment with Cutie, and then after that…
Then it's starts changing, exactly. You have to understand, this is something we talked about a lot. We even had a script version where one of [the parents] was saying like, "Are we really doing this, is this too horrible?" and the other is like "Come on, we don't have a choice". But then it would create a thing where one is the good guy and the other is the bad guy. It was better that they make the decision together.
I think it's even more dark humoured, and shows how bad the parents [have become], when they're actually bathing in [their daughter's] tears. Who is happy? They're like "Yes, she's crying!" Who's happy when your kid [is crying]? And I think that has upset some people. But in a sense, there's a purpose with that, obviously. Like you say, after that, things start to slowly change. And there is also, maybe it's not clear for everybody, or maybe some didn't get to the end, but the realisation they get in the end, that whatever we do, the most important thing is that we're there for you, whatever happens. They forgot the most important thing, which is their daughter.
Yeah. The scene definitely stuck out.
It stuck out, but again, it's part of the story. You could argue that the chess mini game stuck out, or a mechanic stuck out. I know what you mean tone-wise, but still, that's what happens in the story because to make them go that far, to make their daughter cry, they have to kill her favourite toy. Which is kind of sick, and it really is dark humour.
I remember the first time we put in the voice, because that's when the magic happened, when we put Cutie's voice in. I was like "Oh my God!" I myself feel it's bad! I feel bad when I look at it. But at the same time, wow! And the line when [Cody] says “We just need to kill you a little bit!" I dunno, it's a special scene.
Yeah, I definitely get the humorous side of it; I was laughing because of how ridiculous it is, and my girlfriend was just mortified.
I think people get upset because the characters aren't doing it, you as a player are doing it. If this would've happened in a cutscene, you'd still feel bad, but it's the fact you're pulling [the elephant], you're doing it.
Is there a reason the scene goes on for as long as it does? Is it just to emphasise the point?
Yes because… So they pull her and her leg comes off, and then her ear, and then she falls down. If this was just pulling and throwing her off the shelf, it wouldn't be the same, just pushing a toy down. And you see when she lands, it's soft, she's still a toy that's not alive, it's just fantasy. When she lands, it's not a living thing. It had to break when it falls down, you can't just push it down and it breaks. And it is part of the dark side of the parents.
But yes, it is a special scene. I really do understand some people are getting upset, but at the same time, I'd still argue it has an important role in the game.
The game's out and the response has been very positive overall. What's your feeling now it's out there and people are loving it?
I have a strong belief in what we do. From day one, I know what we have done. My speech to the team before we released it for the public was like, look, whatever reaction we get, reviews, don't forget that you have created something extremely great here. That is very important. Now, I never doubted the game is great. However, when the reviews came out and people started playing, then suddenly everybody's accepting: oh, it is a great game. It gets the stamp. Okay, this is a great game. And that made me extremely happy. So it's now okay to understand how great It Takes Two is.
To be honest, I'm not that surprised, because I always have a strong belief in what we do. If you ask me about our next game, I can tell you now, it will be even better than It Takes Two. It's gonna be so crazy. That's how sure I am, like the concept, what's gonna happen, and people will be blown away.
But, with that said, it doesn't mean… Sometimes people call me a genius, blah blah blah — I don't take it seriously. For me, it's just a word. For me, I'm driven by the passion for making games. Every game has its challenges. The next game's gonna be great. With that said, I will be up a lot of nights…
It's like, every game takes a bit out of your soul. Not in a negative way, but, there's so much in Brothers, A Way Out, and this game, there's so much going on. Testing, trying different things, art — you put your heart and soul into this. But I never question if we're doing a good or a bad game. I still think Brothers, A Way Out, and this are great games, to be honest. And obviously, that's the public feeling as well.
What I'm trying to say is, if there's a problem like there always is during production, you twist and turn and do everything you can to fix it, but I never lose trust in the vision of the game.
Not yet! Look, like I said, obviously there's someone out there who doesn't like the game, it's impossible that everybody likes it, but if someone genuinely doesn't like it, I told them, I said I'll give them $1,000 for sure. Even the people that have not been giving it the highest reviews, even they have liked the game.
I suppose your point with that statement is that it's difficult to get bored with the game because there's so much variety throughout, it's always moving on.
It's interesting, and that's something I'm super happy people are reacting to. It's so nice to see because that's something I've been pushing for a lot, like how you pace a game and the variety of gameplay, and how important it is in narrative games. It's so nice to see that people are really loving this. It's a huge amount of work, and we have to polish everything as well. It's not just, oh let's make different mechanics. You can make mechanics quite fast, but everything has to feel polished and nice, quick and responsive. So it's not an easy task to have so many different mechanics.
Well one thing I was going to ask is, there's so much in the game, it goes to some really crazy places. You have the vacuum cleaner boss fight, which is one level of crazy, and then you go inside the tree and you have the war between the squirrels and the wasps. Is there anything that you didn't put in?
You know what, there are — I will actually talk about this in the future, but I want to wait a little bit. I might even show some stuff. But mechanic wise, I will say we try out a lot of stuff. For the next game we're doing now — ah it's gonna be so cool — we're trying out really cool stuff here again, and sometimes you have to work to find the mechanic that feels really nice. Something you have to have in mind is like I said, you can prototype a mechanic quite fast; in Unreal you can sit there and prototype a mechanic in like a week or two. That's not a problem. But if It Takes Two was full of mechanics and they felt bad, what's the point? Then the argument would be, sure there's so many mechanics but it feels so bad to play them. Every mechanic we choose, we try to have in mind, okay, can we take this to a level where it feels nice? Obviously, polish takes time. That's also something I'm very happy about, that people are reacting to the polish level of the game. We've done a great job there. I can't say enough about how proud I am of the whole team.
I wanted to also touch on something else I see people talking about. A lot of people say that this game has very accessible controls, and people who don't normally play games are able to enjoy It Takes Two. My girlfriend has struggled in the past with action games but got on just fine. Could you talk about that?
It's very interesting because I'm hearing this a lot. To be honest with you, we have kind of a regular follow camera, and you can change in the options to have it strong or weak. But we have it as default as a bit stronger than normal, so that is pretty much the only thing that is a bit more helpful, but on the other hand, you have to control the camera like any other action camera. I think what people are missing, it's not accessibility — I mean I'm surprised that so many are playing with someone who's not a gamer, and it's actually working so well. I think the main reason for that is, if you look at Brothers, A Way Out, and It Takes Two, and you look at how many tutorials, and how many long introductions, everything feels so intuitive and nice. When you start playing it, there's not hundreds of tutorials or menus. And I think that's what people are referring to, because when you play this if you're not a gamer, you immediately get it.
That's why I say like, there is an inspiration from Nintendo there. Their playfulness, and [their games are] easy to get into. That's something I really love, and you see it in our games. You will never see a menu of upgrades in a game I'm involved in, never. You will never see collectibles, it will never happen. No menus, no upgrades, no levelling — all this stuff, when you cut them away, I think it makes a cleaner experience for a casual gamer. But with that said, I have to be very clear about this, I'm really not into the casual gaming on mobile, because I think there's a lot of sh*t games there that I don't like, so that's not what I mean. I mean, if I compare it to like, an iPhone. Super complex, but still very nice to use. That's what I love about some games. Sometimes when I get too stuck in the menu of games, I don't like it. So you'll never see a game from Hazelight with menus and upgrades.
So I think it's not the accessibility, like I play a mobile sh*t game with a lot of microtransactions, that's not what I mean. I think the closest thing is the design of what Nintendo is doing, I love. Easy to get into, but in a sense, there's a lot of complexity and depth. A lot of mechanics in It Takes Two can be done as a whole game, the mechanics are deep depending on what you do with them, but it feels very intuitive. If you give [it to] someone who doesn’t play [games] at all, they're like, oh, I push this, and I push that.
We didn't do anything special. I mean we talked about one player [relying on] the other, but it would create so many limits for design, because this is designed as co-op. That's something that a lot of people are forgetting. They're calling this another co-op game, but this isn't another co-op game. This is co-op from the beginning, designed. People are saying, in a good way, this is the best co-op game since Portal 2, best co-op game ever. It is a co-op game, but this is pretty much one of the only co-op only designed games. We don't have a single player campaign, so from that perspective, it's even more unique than your regular co-op game. So what I'm saying is, if you carry the other player, you can't do it because those games are designed to be played alone or with two. [In that case] you can carry a player, but in It Takes Two you can't. It's designed that sometimes you're in different areas.
Anything else you want to talk about?
I'm just so proud that people are feeling the passion we put into the game. You really feel that people are feeling it. This is actually the game we've gotten [the biggest] reaction to in a positive way, it's crazy. You can't deny or hide when you see or hear someone passionate talk about this. And that is so cool to see I think. Obviously we're all super proud and happy. It's always nice to both get the great attention that people are loving and playing it, and the fact that we're done, and can feel very proud of it.
A big thank you to Josef for taking the time to talk to us, and to those at Hazelight Studios who made the interview possible. What did you make of the Cutie scene? What were some of your favourite moments in It Takes Two? Work together in the comments section below.