It Takes Two Review: Honey, we’re shrunken shells of our former selves
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but marriage takes work.
Actually, I do know who needs to hear this — Cody and May, who, like any married couple, have their fair share of qualms and quarrels with each other. What they don’t have, however, is the will to work on these issues and have instead opted for divorce. Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes divorce is the best route for all parties involved, but their daughter Rose didn’t think this was the case. After her parents broke the news to her over the dinner table one day, she excused herself from the conversation, picked up a marriage therapy book, tightly held the dolls she’d created of her parents, and fervently wished that the pair could become friends again, holding out for their bickering to end.
As the burning desire in her heart swelled, Rose found she could no longer contain her emotions, lamenting her family’s broken state as tears fell from her cheeks and onto the dolls. Then, a miracle happened — her parents suddenly blacked out, only to awaken as the dolls! Trapped in these tiny wooden and clay bodies, May and Cody must cooperate to make their way back into the house and into their human form… before they lose themselves, their family, and their daughter.
What’s interesting about It Takes Two is that it’s a perfectly good action/adventure puzzler game made specifically for two people — and not in the typical multiplayer manner of “two people need to step on these switches to open a door to proceed,” rather one where you’ll need to actively communicate with the other person to solve problems. This means that who you play with will impact your experience, be it your spouse next to you on your couch or a friend through online play. My husband and I decided to give this a go over our holiday break, May and Cody’s marital problems a prompt to discuss some of our own; for example, I’m certainly prone to overworking (like May) while my husband has neglected his hobbies these past few years (just like Cody).
As a tiny May and Cody navigated through their suddenly large yard and home, my husband and I were corralled into improving our communication style in order to move forward. My eager-beaver attitude frustrated my slow and steady husband, while I grew impatient waiting for him to catch what I felt were obvious cues. As time went on, however, we learned to not only work with each other, but use our personalities to become more efficient players. When the pathway seemed straightforward, I lead the way at breakneck speed; when stuck and seemingly out of options, my meticulously investigative husband always sniffed out the solution. The Psychology major in me absolutely loved this, our strengths and weaknesses laid bare in front of these pixelated avatars of ourselves.
From a gameplay perspective, It Takes Two is one of the most collaborative split-screen co-op games ever created, designed specifically for players to communicate problem-solving strategies. But that doesn’t stop Cody and May from engaging in a little friendly competition from time to time, their world filled with a dozen or so mini-games to provide a challenging little break. From chess to curling, darts to laser-dodging, and even an 80s-inspired aerobics/treadmill race, players will enjoy setting aside their cooperative efforts to either declare victory or admit defeat. My husband and I had a blast taking a whack at various mini-games, unapologetically showboating after each win and light-heartedly shaking our fists at the other after each loss.
While I have nothing but praise for the level variety and gameplay, I felt quite letdown by It Takes Two’s story. While I understand May and Cody needed to have softball issues to work through for the sake of relatability and family-friendliness, the act of “working through” them was often much ado about nothing. Surely the pair cooperating to get from point A to point B would foster a sense of togetherness and goodwill, but the so-called “therapy sessions” left much to be desired. Remember that therapy book I mentioned earlier? Yeah, it comes alive and tries to dish out marriage advice throughout the game, eventually holding the couple hostage to work through four key issues. At first, this made a lot of sense and even summed up some things nicely, such as building a relationship in the crumbled ruins of a “relation-shit” (their words); as time went on, the lessons felt ham-fisted and hardly wrapped up at level’s end, the culmination of their counseling somewhat disappointing.
It’s not so much that I expected a Disney movie ending per se, I just wish that It Takes Two more strongly considered Cody and May’s development as a family unit in addition to their individual growth. The overarching theme of It Takes Two was their looming divorce and their need to communicate, and while I get that they can’t just turn things around in an afternoon, there wasn’t much discussion between the two outside of their awkwardly positioned plans for selling the house and splitting custody. It’s okay that there’s a lot still up in the air in terms of where they stand and what the future looks like for them, but after spending 20+ hours with them we should have a better grasp on the situation. In a game all about communication, I feel like the game didn’t convey enough about their thoughts, feelings, and overall journey.
Despite these perceived flaws, It Takes Two is a wholly unique experience absolutely worth playing, and that goes doubly so if you’re romantically involved with your Player 2. I’m sure I would have had a lot of fun playing with a sibling, friend, or coworker, but playing with my husband allowed us to explore our own communication styles and how we work together to achieve goals. My expectations for It Takes Two were high considering its win of the coveted TGA GOTY Award for 2021, and while it achieved greatness in level design, mechanics, and fantastic boss battles, the story left much to be desired. And in a quasi-story driven game, that’s a hurdle it’ll take a lot more than two to get over.
It Takes Two takes the tried and true action/adventure-puzzler genre and turns it into possibly the most collaborative split-screen co-op game ever created. Coupled with the presented marital issues between the main characters that make for fantastic springboards to discuss with your own Player 2, It Takes Two will strongly resonate with just about anyone who picks up a controller. Although character development was a bit lacking and the story somewhat sluggish, these issues do not diminish the incredibly imaginative level design and supremely enjoyable boss battles. If you’re looking for a case study in co-op puzzle games that deserves to define the genre going forward, grab a partner and pick up It Takes Two.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC, PS5, PS4 (reviewed); Publisher: Electronic Arts; Developer: Hazelight Studios; Players: 2; Released: March 25, 2021; MSRP: $39.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of It Takes Two purchased by the reviewer.