I love playing games with my friends. I love it even more when it brings us closer.
I’ve often steered towards single player games when it comes to telling a story. If I want to play games with other people, it’s generally a round of Mario Kart or Smash Bros. Be that as it may, there was a time when I was regularly playing online or couch co-op games with friends. Games like Portal 2, Death Squared, and the Borderlands series were staples in my library, and I was over the moon to be able to play games where I would work together with my friends to reach the end goal.
Then suddenly I didn’t. There seemed to be a lack of co-op story games coming out (or maybe they just flew under my radar). While I, like many others, found joy in slamming a red hot ‘Your Mum’ into Quiplash with my buds, it definitely felt like the age of couch co-op games was long behind us. The rise of online multiplayer was probably somewhat related to this, and that’s not to say online multiplayer games are bad. The ability to play a round of Fortnite with people all over the world is an idea that would have you deemed a witch if you travelled back in time to the 1600’s and told the local townsfolk about it. What I mean is that vast online multiplayer is an incredible feat that’s spanned many years and is hugely popular for good reason.
However, I’ve always missed the era of couch co-op story games. There’s plenty of fun to be had by facing off with your mates in a death match, be it in a video game or physically in Acer Arena with nothing but your bare fists to fight with. But for me, there’s an extra layer that comes with co-op story games. The active collaboration between friends to reach their goals, the co-operative effort to make the story progress, and the joint frustration when things fuck up. It’s a dual experience akin to doing a puzzle or stressfully building IKEA furniture together. You may screech at them for not holding a piece of wood up, and they may complain that their back is sore, but in the end you have a perfectly good coffee table.
That longing went away when I decided to shack up with my best friend for a week and play It Takes Two.
It Takes Two is a co-op only, action-adventure platform developed by Hazelight Studios and published by EA. Hazelight is also responsible for A Way Out, which admittedly I haven’t played but from the countless takes I’ve seen seems like it was very much a stand-out in terms of co-op gaming. The director of both games Josef Fares is an enigma of a creator, well known for being a bit of a wild card in the video games industry. While there are countless interesting things he has to say, in an interview with Polygon he mentioned that right now, he’s all about making co-op games. But instead of the standard grindy co-op game, he says of his games, “You’re actually playing a story together. That’s the difference. You need to talk to that person.”
That was my experience with It Takes Two. While the dialogue could be seen as a little cheesy, the game felt like a perfect co-op experience. There were countless times where my best friend and I would be sitting dumbfounded by what we were supposed to do, until one of us piped up and explained it to the other. There were even more moments of the classic joint countdown before one of us pressed a button or jumped. We died a lot, and missed cues even more, but it was fun. It was a strong stream of entertainment for the both of us where we had to work together and when we successfully beat a boss or cleared an area, we’d revel in each other’s glee of finally getting through it.
The game is beautifully made, and we both had multiple moments of going, “Wow. This area is gorgeously designed.” We shared the trauma of having to brutally maim a sweet little elephant that didn’t do anything wrong, and we squealed together as we were introduced to the pink angel-pig-dog-bear creatures that appear in the heavenly symphony area. We started, played, and beat the game together, and it was the most fun I’ve had playing a game in a while. It gave me the double-win of playing a great game and spending time with one of the most important people in my life.
Sure, there’s fun to be had in playing any game, alone or with others. But there’s something really magical about playing and beating a game like It Takes Two with your best friend. Considering it’s a game about a couple getting a divorce and then ultimately deciding not to after undergoing Relationship Therapy For Gamers, this might even be a game that you could enjoy with your worst enemy. And after this round of therapy, I’m ready for more. More in the sense that I hope that It Takes Two will spark a new wave of co-op story games that put an equal amount of effort into the story of the game as well as the enjoyment you get from sharing the experience with someone else.