The year 2021 will be known for being a lot of things. Notable amongst them was staying inside even more than usual and playing video games. Lucky for us, there were a great number of games that came out this year that we got to play over many hours in isolation. These range from creative shooters like Deathloop to those that revisited old franchises with new life like Resident Evil Village. It was these titles and more that made the year an embarrassment of riches when it came to exciting new games to dive into while waiting out this seemingly never-ending storm.
However, there was one game that stood out above them all. A work that proved to be almost perfect in its construction and gameplay that was unmatched in how good it was. I am talking about It Takes Two, the co-op action-adventure platformer developed by Hazlelight Studios. It was named Game Of The Year at the 2021 Game Awards above the aforementioned works as well as beloved games like Psychonauts 2 and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
To some, this selection was a bit of a surprise. To those not lucky enough to be familiar with It Takes Two, it may have felt like the selection came out of left field. I am here to tell you that not only did the Game Awards get it right, but if there is one game worth checking out from this year, it is this one. Refreshing and inventive with a dark sense of humor plus gameplay that never drags, it is the game that I found myself constantly enjoying from one part to the next. There could not have been a more deserving pick.
The adventure involves getting small and finding the beauty in the simplest of places from your own backyard to your attic, a relatable prospect that only enhanced my engagement with the game. It is also, in something that is unabashedly sappy, about finding love again when it has faded from your life. It centers on Cody and May, a couple who are considering divorce as they feel their marriage slowly falling apart.
The complication is that they have a child, Rose, who doesn’t want to see her parents fighting or splitting up. Desperate to bring them back together, she uses magic to shrink them into dolls so that they can rebuild their relationship with each other while going on various adventures. The couple are not entirely enthused about their new state of existence, even terrified that they may be trapped this way forever. However, they must find a way to work together in order to get back to their lives and their daughter. There is a lot of bickering and roasting of each other, though they soon begin to remember what it was about each other that they fell in love with at the beginning of their relationship. Oh, and there is a literal Book of Love that has come to life who will lead them on their journey to the various realms that can be found in their home.
The story is pretty cheesy, but in a way that is so earnest, it will win you over in no time. What makes it work is that the skepticism you have when first starting out is shared by the characters. Both you and they don’t really believe that this can work. After all, they seem to be pretty committed to calling it a wrap on their relationship and going their own separate ways. Yet you begin to realize that much of the root of the problems they have in their relationship comes from a lack of communication and understanding of each other.
True to the game’s title, it takes two to make things work and the co-op nature of it all proves to be a fitting one. There aren’t many such games where you have to play with another person and this one is certainly one of the best. The way you work together and the collaboration of the game is so finely tuned that it is as perfect of an experience as one could hope to have.
Seeing as you must work together as the couple, it begins to gradually convince you that all is not lost for them and that they can indeed find a way back to loving each other. It has a story that rivals another beloved game from this year: Life Is Strange: True Colors. That game had a story and series of endings I already loved, so this is a high compliment. For those who want to make sure to have plenty of gameplay in their video games, It Takes Two is still much more about the playing than it is about the story. The narrative is woven throughout each chapter, though each part is all about the new and exciting ways to play each adventure.
The game is mostly about jumping and platforming, though it continually gives you new abilities for each chapter to keep things fresh. These can range from one character having a hammer while the other has nails, meaning one of you must swing and aim for the nails that the other player puts in place. Another ability is where one of you can manipulate gravity while the other can change the size of their character. What makes these elements so crucial is that it ensures the game never feels repetitive. Too often, games can quickly just become about the grind and repeating all the actions you’ve already been doing for hours prior. It Takes Two is full of exploding creativity that is part of constant reinvention which keeps things interesting.
It is a game where you get to battle against a group of bees in the tree in your backyard as you form a tentative alliance with the squirrels. The way you navigate each new setting is what gives it all boundless charm that constantly reaches new heights.
It also is a beautiful game that serves the imagination of each sequence incredibly well. As the game finds excuses to take you to other dimensions, you can’t help but be in awe of how gorgeous everything looks. One sequence sees you ride a transparent whale creature that takes you through the brightly colored interior of the tree. The design does a fantastic job of making the scope vast with feeling and grounded in a natural beauty that is accentuated by the fantastical elements of the game.
There was truly nothing quite like it this year and it will set a high watermark as we move into 2022. It is hard to imagine seeing anything match It Takes Two's near-perfect execution.
Take me back to those water cooler days.
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