It Takes Two celebrates the value of human connections. And if the tumultuous last twelve months have taught us anything, it's that those connections are, indeed, worth a lot.
Coming from the mind of Josef Fares, the lead designer on Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and A Way Out, It Takes Two is a co-op puzzle-platformer that constantly surprises the player. Around every turn, there is some fresh delight to see, and or a new mechanic to try. Almost everything in the game will put a massive grin on your face.
It Takes Two revels in the pure joy of gaming as an interactive medium. There are certainly deeper games out there, as well as titles with more immersive worlds and narratives. But few games can compete when it comes to the straight-up fun factor that It Takes Two possesses.
It’s not a flawless ride, and the story leaves a lot to be desired. On the whole, though, It Takes Two is such a wonderful experience that you’ll likely come away from your initial playthrough itching to start over again.
It Takes Two review: Co-op only
The first thing that any potential It Takes Two player needs to know is that it’s a strictly co-op game. Just like Hazelight’s last release, A Way Out, there is no single-player option.
You must play It Takes Two from start to finish with a partner, no exceptions. There also isn’t any form of online matchmaking, so you must either be sitting next to a second player on the couch, or have them in your online friends list beforehand.
Puzzles will regularly ask you and your partner to work in sync, using individual abilities in tandem to advance through the various worlds you explore. Because communication is vital to your success, it's absolutely crucial it is to play It Takes Two alongside someone you know well.
This isn’t a game you want to play with a random stranger you plucked from an internet forum. You’ll want to play with a partner, sibling, roommate, friend or family member. The clue is in the name here: To get through this adventure it really does take two.
It Takes Two review: Story
It Takes Two follows a husband and wife, Cody and May, who are on the brink of divorce. When their young daughter overhears their latest row, she escapes to the family’s shed with two small dolls that bear more than a close resemblance to her own parents.
While she’s playing with the dolls, a few of her tears land on them. In a magical twist, her parents awaken to find themselves trapped within these miniature playthings. From here, Cody and May must learn to work together in order to find a way back to their human bodies.
In It Takes Two, the plot matches the gameplay. As you and your co-op partner solve puzzles, Cody and May start to solve the broken aspects of their relationship. It’s a cute idea, and there’s a lot of whimsy in the tale, but it also rings rather hollow in places.
Divorce is a pretty serious subject, and the game never really treats it as such. The notion that Cody and May may be fundamentally ill-suited for each other never comes up. Instead, all their fractured relationship needs is for them to just “love each other again”.
Of course, expecting a nuanced take on adult relationships in a game such as It Takes Two might seem like a pretty ridiculous nitpick — and it would be, if the game weren’t so tonally confusing. At points, it feels like It Takes Two is meant for young children. However, some scenes are decidedly more grown-up in nature.
One scene, in which Cody and May literally dismember a stuffed elephant as it begs for its life, seems like the type of thing that would traumatize a young player. Sometimes, you’ll be left wondering who the target audience for this story was supposed to be.
While the narrative’s frequent tonal whiplash is frustrating, the biggest issue is with a single character: Dr. Hakim. This talking Book of Love is among the most cringe-inducing characters you're likely to encounter in any medium, even outside of video games. Think Jar Jar Binks, but dialed up to 11.
Dr. Hakim pops up regularly throughout the game to give Cody and May relationship advice, and he invokes headache-inducing levels of annoyance every time. Maybe it’s intentional. After all, the in-game pair never seem particularly impressed with him either. But you’ll quickly come to groan at his frequent appearances.
It Takes Two review: Gameplay
Once you start actually playing It Takes Two (and Dr. Hakim mercifully stops talking), that’s when the game really starts to shine.
Fares designed from the ground up for co-op play, and this means that almost every aspect of the game is tailor-made for two people to complete cooperatively.
Sure, it has all the platforming standards like running, jumping and ground-pounding switches. But the vast majority of the game's puzzles require you and your companion to work together in harmony.
This isn’t a co-op game where you can go off and do your own thing. You need to stick together and work in tandem if you want to progress. Puzzles require logical thinking and precise teamwork. Often, you'll have to perform actions in unison or set off chain reactions simultaneously.
The game does a wonderful job of constantly introducing new abilities as well. You never stick with one mechanic for long. Each chapter puts a new twist on the core gameplay. While some of the game’s ideas are more innovative than others, all of them feel fun to experiment with.
One section gives Cody a magic nail that he can throw and call back, just like Kratos’ axe in God of War, while May has a hammer that she can use to swing across gaps. Another gives May the ability to clone herself, while Cody can rewind and fast forward time. Remarkably, these abilities stick around for only a single section, and then give way to something equally engaging.
The gameplay variety overall is staggering. There’s plenty of puzzle-solving, but there are also several boss encounters, vehicle segments and even a section when the game turns into an isometric dungeon crawler, like Diablo. You’ll never be bored in It Takes Two, as the game is always throwing new ideas at you.
Throughout the various levels, you’ll also find several competitive mini-games to challenge your partner. There’s no prize for winning, other than bragging rights, but they make for a great change of pace and a wonderful distraction from the main quest. You’ll likely end up getting seriously delayed after the loser demands a rematch.
The main campaign takes around 10-12 hours to complete, which feels appropriate for a game of this type. Remember: You’ll need to sync up two schedules to see the game through to the end.
From a gameplay perspective, It Takes Two borders on perfection. It’s so wonderfully inventive, on such a frequent basis, that the thrill of seeing what ability or wrinkle is around the next corner will have you playing for hours at a time.
It Takes Two: Visuals and sound
It Takes Two has a pleasant, if hardly spectacular, visual style. It has the art style of a Pixar movie, but the animation quality ends up closer to that of a Dreamworks feature. Still, everything is brightly colored, which suits the game’s (mostly) whimsical nature.
The voice work for Cody and May is especially good, with some strong performances from Joseph Balderrama and Annabelle Dowler, respectively. (The less said about Dr. Hakim’s offensively awful accent, the better, though.)
Soundwise, the game has a bouncy score that gets the job done. You’re probably not going to be downloading the official soundtrack afterward, but a few tunes, especially in the winter levels, sound impressive. Most in-game actions have pleasing sound effects to accompany them.
It Takes Two review: Verdict
It Takes Two is a remarkable release, which will remind you why you fell in love with gaming in the first place. It might even convince a few of your gaming-agnostic friends and family to take up the hobby after helping you through Cody and May’s journey.
We still have many months to go, but It Takes Two seems almost guaranteed to be one of 2021’s strongest titles. It’s a truly special game that provides an abundance of smiles and laughs at a time when they are needed most.