Marriage isn’t always perfect. Sometimes, as here, two presumably decent, hard-working parents, whose relationship you know nothing about and whom you can afford only the most general human empathy, find the joy of matrimony fades. So they must support their daughter as they carefully share their decision to separate. However, in It Takes Two, the capital-T Talk doesn’t go exactly to plan, as dad and mum Cody and May are promptly plunged into a torturous hell, shrunk into freaky dolls by the magic tears of their crying daughter – whom we can only presume is a witch. Nonetheless, they seem inclined to return to her, rather than flee, and so begin an adventure from shed to garden to house. Like Rick Moranis on acid.
Following much game-o-sphere cheering and clapping last year – Game of the Year this, revolutionary that – It Takes Two has landed on Switch with its impressive commitment to co-op gaming. To be clear, there is no real way to play this game without a companion. It is essentially and only co-op, there is not a single set-piece or puzzle based on solo play. Cody and May are not two people optionally playing in the same space: the spaces are built in every way for their pairing. They’re nothing without one another, which of course rather leads the story. To try and play this on your own – apart from requiring virtuosic controller-juggling dexterity – would be rather tragic, if anything depicting your lonely struggles as starkly as it is supposed to depict companionship.
Anyway, the meat and potatoes here, served at your table for two, is vibrant, solid, creative platforming. The jump feel is rewarding and extremely generous. A double jump can be followed by a forward dash, effectively making for a triple jump that covers very long gaps or saves misjudgments. Coyote time is helpful without losing the smoothness of dropping from a ledge, and a sticky wall-jump lets you basically Spidey onto stuff as well as recover quite badly missed leaps.
With this last point, for example, a level may ask your partner to race about, moving platforms or clearing obstacles while you slowly inch down a wall you’ve stuck to before you kick off to whatever safety they have or haven’t achieved. Imperilling yourself, in faith that your friend will be there for you, creates a true bond, the kind of bond most hilarious to break by slamming an iron vice onto a gullible idiot. Respawn is instant and unlimited, inviting this kind of larking about at all times. It’s fun, it’s playful, it’s murderous. Yes, you can crush the ants. No, there is no reason to do so. Yes, you can keep on doing it. No, they won’t keep coming back. Sorry, ants.
A variety of gadgets are handed out in patience-stretching cutscenes by a salacious talking book that your daughter ought not to be reading, witch or no witch. Neither gadget is much good for its owner – a hammerhead with no nails, say, or some flammable gel with nothing to ignite it – but together you are equipped to make surprisingly visceral, violent progress. (That poor Hoover! Why?!) No spoilers, but the boss fights are wonderful. The ever-present need to cooperate goes as far as agreeing that the cutscenes are too long and skipping them by both holding 'A' at the same time. It Takes Two wants to be a movie, but it would be the kind of movie where we wished the cinema had an 'A' button.
When it comes to discussing this Switch rendition of the game, there is, of course, a magically-giant toy elephant in the crying witch-girl’s room. It Takes Two – and, in all fairness, it’s hinted at by the title – does indeed take two. Sitting on the sofa with a full controller each, sharing a nice big telly, the core play experience makes perfect sense. However, of Switch’s three models, the OLED is for handheld enthusiasts, the Switch Lite is for handheld exclusivists, and even standard-model players are at least handheld-curious. So are Hazelight and EA cut off from a major chunk of Switch owners with this two-player game?
Thankfully, the same options are provided here as on other consoles. You can play online with a friend whether they own the game or not, which is nice (although the “Friend Pass” was not live for testing during our review), or on local WiFi across two Switches. The fly in the ointment for online play remains Nintendo’s voice chat non-solution. Not great for a game so dependent on communication, but you can improvise. We tested online and local co-op and found the experience mostly solid. A couple of drops from the server in several hours online didn’t lose us much progress.
But the Switchiest of ways to play is of course tabletop mode. For this, we recruited a three-year-old “dad” to bespouse us through the first level, holding a Joy-Con pair each and huddling round the kickstood screen. With the Switch so bare on the table, the fact that the slender, wireless slab was able to pump out two play-windows smoothly was all the more pleasing. Squashy resolution, gungy models, asset pop-inning cutscenes – not a bit of it was going to bother us on our tiny split screens. We had tons of fun.
And those graphical compromises are indeed there. This game looks like what it is: a Switch port of a game from 2021. However, frame rates caused far less frustration than an incompetent spouse making a tiny and inconsequential error AGAIN. EVERY BLOODY TIME. Much of the fun of It Takes Two is happening in the room and not in the game, so the Switch version delivers everything it needs to. In summary, Hazelight decided gameplay trumps prettiness, so good port.
Putting the graphics aside, the audio in It Takes Two is fantastic. The sound design is as rich as it is whimsical, not presenting any obvious corner-cutting in quality for the sake of Nintendo’s hardware. Meanwhile, we get a musical score grinning with cinematic pastiche, nodding enthusiastically at Danny Elfman and John Williams, if overegging the observation that “Flight of the Bumblebee” can be played in the presence of wasps. Footsteps and voices reverberate through vacuum cleaner pipes and shouts get blown away as you soar through winds on a hang-pants-glider. The fun of your gadgets is garnished by silly but nicely produced thuds and bonks and squelches to extra-irritate anyone “accidentally” on the receiving end.
If you were even half-aware of games news at the end of 2021, you will already be a bit interested in this game. It’s brimming with fun, uniquely committed to co-op gaming, plays solidly and distinctively, and usually discards one cool idea in favour of another before there’s time to get bored. Now-standard graphical compromises have been made for Switch, and the typical perk of playing handheld is questionable for an always-split-screen co-op-only game. Nonetheless, it keeps the frames moving well enough not to undermine its Game-of-the-Year sparkle. It Takes Two and the good old Switch may not be a perfect marriage, but it’s probably worth sticking it out, now that we’re five years in.