You know that existential crisis that sometimes accompanies playing a new game you’ve been looking forward to, where you feel like you should be enjoying yourself more than you actually are? When you remember what it was like to play games as a kid, when you could get lost in a world of 16-bit pixels and feel like you were actually a part of its levels, and how that part of you has been missing ever since you became an adult? It Takes Two may ostensibly be a game for grown-up couples, but it recaptures that childhood magic better than any game I’ve played in years.
It Takes Two centers around Cody and May, a couple on the brink of divorce. After telling their daughter, Rose, that they plan to separate, she unwittingly casts a spell that sees the pair being transported into two of her dolls, with them being greeted by the enthusiastic Book of Love who aims to mend their relationship. This sets the stage for a co-op adventure where two players work together, either via local or online multiplayer, in order to journey through a fantastical recreation of Cody and May’s real world.
Honey, I Shrunk the Parents
Cody and May have essentially been forced into a Honey, I Shrunk the Parents situation, where their doll selves must navigate through their familiar surroundings from a different, much smaller perspective. However, developer Hazelight Studios also leans heavily into the magic behind its concept, with each of It Takes Two’s seven chapters being designed as though viewed through the eyes of a child. This unique approach allows for an exhaustive and ceaselessly impressive barrage of ideas, with Hazelight dreaming up fun and exciting things for players to do at a rate that would make even Nintendo envious.
While It Takes Two’s levels are set in familiar household locations — the attic, the garden, Rose’s bedroom — the various toys, objects, and critters who reside in each area are brought to life. Rose’s hastily built cardboard castle becomes a sprawling environment to explore complete with dungeons, pirate ships, and dinosaurs, while her treehouse is home to a strange war between militarized squirrels and their rival wasps.
Playing on PS5, each location looks gorgeous and runs at a smooth 60 FPS, and while I would have appreciated the forced split-screen perspective to be used a little more sparingly in moments where both players are side-by-side, it’s commendable that It Takes Two still looks as good as it does even with the screen divided in half.
Tools to mend a broken heart
It Takes Two’s director Josef Fares has spoken of his disdain for useless collectibles, and that’s evident from the game’s distinct lack of shiny things to pick up. However, that’s not to say that it doesn’t welcome exploration. While it isn’t as open as the likes of Super Mario Odyssey, there’s an excellent mixture of both linear and large-scale environments players are left to jump around in, making full use of its impressively fluid movement and tight, precise platforming. My fiancée and I — a risky co-op team considering the game’s divorce theme — were also encouraged to look around in order to uncover its various mini-games, which provide plenty of player-vs-player opportunities.
A Way Out, Hazelight’s previous release, reserved many of its standout moments for when players were directly pitted against one another. The same rings true here, with over 20 mini-games scattered throughout the game’s 12–14 hour playtime letting players engage one another in snowball fights, endless runners, shootouts, and more. Going from carefully co-operating with my fiancée to raucously screaming at one another in an RC car race was never not hilarious.
Each new chapter also brings with it new abilities and equipment to utilize. These see Cody and May being given different tools that, when combined, allow them to progress through the chapter. Cody will take charge of a gun that shoots explosive gel in one level, while May is in charge of detonating it. In another, they’re each given different ends of a magnet, where they literally explore the idea of “opposites attract” in order to complete puzzles.
The Book of Love explains how each of these abilities is intended to bring the pair closer together, with each one representing something they’ve either lost in their relationship or that they’ve lost in themselves. While this may seem like deep subject matter for a platformer, it’s all handled with the welcome levity of a feel-good romantic comedy. Cody and May’s relationship isn’t particularly multi-faceted — they don’t have any major issues with one another so much as a series of small annoyances — but for a game like this, exploring the intricacies of the breakdown of a romance isn’t necessary.
That’s the Book, that’s the Book… the Book of Love
However, It Takes Two falters when it comes to its tone. Cody and May are depicted as somewhat selfish, but a few of their decisions are ruthless and show a glimmer of Hazelight’s dark sense of humor. These scenes work because they feel real and relatable — if you’d been transformed into a doll, you’d do whatever it took to become human again, too — but they’re so rare that they feel incredibly out of place. Instead, Hazelight tries to rely on the Book of Love for its laughs, a tepid and dull comic relief character who lacks any punchlines.
But where It Takes Two lacks humor in its storytelling, it more than makes up for it in the fun you can have with your co-op partner. Each level is purpose-built for players to have a good time in, and while a modicum of gaming experience is required from both players, it has a forgiving level of challenge that is accommodating of mostly all skill levels. Its Friend’s Pass also ensures only one player needs to own a copy of the game to play it in online co-op, an incredibly player-friendly gesture that should make this must-play game a no-brainer purchase.
It Takes Two Review: The final verdict
It Takes Two is one of the most delightful and ceaselessly entertaining co-op games I’ve played. Hazelight offers so many exciting levels, abilities, set-pieces, and mini-games, but does not let this extreme level of variety affect its quality. Every new idea is introduced to the game with care and used in a way that players can enjoy, before promptly being recycled out for an even better one. That this is the developer’s first platformer is staggeringly impressive, and I can only hope that this won’t be its final flirtation with a genre it’s clearly head over heels for.