Friday, April 16, 2021

‘It takes two’ is one hell of a couples therapy session

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In long-term relationships, it’s always the little things. Chore lists. Sending SMS. “I don’t know, what do you want for dinner?” Combat equipment. At the same time, love is the destroyer of scale. Small transgressions are metonymic and replace real issues: gender expectations of household chores; your partner comes home at midnight from God knows what club; how indecisive they are about everything.

In the new cooperative game It takes two, May and her husband Cody, who have been turned into tiny dolls, crawl into the pillow fort she built for their daughter Rose. These aren’t two dining room chairs with a draped roof. It’s a labyrinth. Its ceiling is like that of a cathedral. The floor, which rolls up forever, is stacked with pillows several times their size. To regain their well-proportioned life, May and Cody climb through the cushions.

Cody jokes, “Rose calls it ‘mom’s space’, you know, like ‘outer space’.” May says she didn’t know. “Because you’re still working,” Cody retorts. As they venture deeper, more and more space-themed toys appear: Discovery Store-style plasma balls, a mobile hanging solar system. The background suddenly changes from “mom space” to galactic space. Above and below the glass floor is infinity. The playground of their relationship quarrels has shifted from a petri dish to the cosmos.

It takes two is an amazing game. First and foremost, it’s exceptionally fun, satisfying, and innovative – maybe crossing the high bar. Gate 2 defined for cooperative games. Delightful details, from toys from ’90s dentist shops to anthropomorphic vacuum cleaners, fill every level. Each of the endless streams of new game loops feels well, never forced or unwieldy. Its greatest success, however, is its perfect synergy between plot and gameplay. It is only playable by two people, either online or together in the same room. Leaving aside the sad reality that few AAA video games take love as their subject, It takes two do more than wear on like. “We use a lot of metaphors through mechanics,” says Josef Fares, founder of It takes two developer Hazelight Studios.

As Cody and May fight through maximized parts of their home, like the military base run by squirrels occupying their tree, they are continually given complementary and contrasting abilities, like a gun filled with flammable nectar and a shooter. And so if Cody doesn’t paint the wasp nest with nectar, May can’t detonate it and neither of them can continue. “For some storytelling experiences, we should include mechanics as part of the storytelling,” says Fares. Magical puss in boots relationship therapy book accompanies (and annoys) couple, screaming co-lab-or-ation! every chance he has.

Love is the perfect terrain vehicle for the surprising range of mechanics It takes two offers. The structure of the game has a solid foundation of action-adventure with fun-loving basics like jumping and dashing. the Love book transports Cody and May to various settings or objects from the couple’s life, like their shed or a snow globe they had on a ski trip, where well-paced introductions to new mechanics avoid boredom or the monotony. Short challenges appear from time to time with game loops from Glove, Dance Dance Revolution, and even street fighter. Just like ambitious long-term relationships, there is a satisfying mix of old and new, tradition and new, the expectation and the unexpected.

But Cody and May are not in a successful long term relationship. They are divorcing. And throughout the game, the couple constantly shoot each other, conjuring up little things that annoy them, little needles that have carved deep gashes. The neglected tool shed where May practiced her hobbies is factory-sized. The unmeasurable problem of attraction is condensed into two halves of a magnet. Zooming in and zooming out of May’s troubles and Cody’s wedding make a funhouse of deep wounds and a mundane war story.

Take the problem of time. May always says she doesn’t. But Cody still says she doesn’t prioritize what’s really important. The two arrive at a level – inside their house’s mechanical cuckoo clock – where Cody gains the ability to turn back time and May gains the ability to duplicate herself. Together, they fight through the metal gears of the clock, believing that they are in control of their surroundings until they realize that, in fact, the clock tower itself is disturbing them. They must break the clocks in the shape of a heart.

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