It Takes Two is a charming, cooperative adventure game by Hazelight Studios. The game centers on Cody and Mae, an estranged couple beaten down by the complexities of their unfulfilling lives. Their dreams, individually and together, are unrealised. The passion of their early relationship is long extinguished. The slim thread that has kept their relationship together is their daughter Rose. Though young, Rose is no dummy and can see that the writing is on the wall — her parents will divorce and it feels like there’s nothing she can do to stop it. She creates a pair of homemade dolls of her parents and, as she cries, her tears give the dolls power.
When Cody and Mae wake up, they find themselves transformed into these very dolls. Furious and indignant over the circumstances though they may be, Cody and Mae will have to put their bickering aside and work together if they want to return to their normal bodies. And if the adventure was to save their marriage? Well, that would be a pleasant bonus, wouldn’t it?
Together, to the end
The thing to know about It Takes Two is that there’s no single-player option here. It can ONLY be played as a cooperative experience, either online or local couch co-op. You will need to rope in a friend or a loved one to play it with you, and in this, it makes for a terrific bonding exercise. Play it with your significant other, especially if they aren’t typically into video games. It might bring them around. Be aware though — our playthrough clocked in at around 16 hours or so, which is a bit of an ask for a co-op platformer. It’s a lot of time for two people to set aside.
Part of the game’s genius is that it uses each new world to grant the players fresh abilities to explore. These abilities are granted by a floating, talking book straight out of The Pagemaster called Dr. Hakim. Dialogue and character are two of the game’s weakest elements, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Dr. Hakim. This irritating, spectral book shows up whenever the Cody and Mae edge closer to breaking their daughter’s spell. He will rattle off some half-assed bon-mots about love and devotion before shunting the characters sideways, off their clear path, and into the next level. He’s supposed to be the quirky, funny comic relief. All my partner and I wanted to do was set him on fire. For all the grief he caused us, Hakim is useful in that he is the one who grants our heroes new powers.
Saving a marriage through inventive game design
Heavily inspired by Pixar’s body of work, and the track by Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston from which it takes its name, the design of It Takes Two is determined to show its players a good time. Every move it makes, and every puzzle it creates, is in the service of putting a smile on your face. There are nine different sandbox levels to traverse, and each one gives you something new and exciting to do together. One level equips you with matchstick flamethrowers and turns you both loose in a beehive. Another has you trying to cram a rude squirrel on top of a biplane built out of Cody’s undies.
Unlike its fairly rote story, the gameplay design is inventive and rarely predictable. Like an excitable kid, It Takes Two is full of things it wants to show you, is earnest in its hope that you like them, and is aware it has a finite amount of time to roll it all out. It needn’t worry — the many mechanical surprises are more than enough to keep even easily distracted players dialled in.
The game does its best to reflect its core tenet — teamwork making the dream work — in every aspect of its design. This is not a shared world, you’re not cutting down playtime by dividing and conquering. The game world is constructed such that progress is impossible if you don’t work together. One character cannot move forward without the other, and through this the game creates its most memorable moments. Puzzles that require clear, concise and perfectly timed communication are the standouts, often leading to laugh-out-loud chaos.
It Takes Two may not be the most stirring love story ever told in a video game, but what it lacks in storytelling ability it makes up in ambition and invention. It’s the perfect game to play with a partner or loved one, a game that seems purpose-built for connectivity in the time of Covid. If you can both carve out 16 hours to play it over a few nights, I promise, not only will you have a great time but you’ll feel closer at the end.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Inventive gameplay; Clever design; Laugh-out-loud co-op chaos, Only one copy required (even for online play)
Lowlights: Uninspired story and characters; Sometimes is wears its inspirations a little TOO clearly on its sleeve
Developer: Hazelight Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts, EA Originals
Platforms: PlayStation 5, Xbox Seres X|S, Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Review conducted on PlayStation 5 using a retail code provided by the publisher.