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Review: It Takes Two Turns Marriage Drama into a Delirious Co-Op Experience

It Takes Two uses a smorgasbord of gameplay techniques to set us adrift in the field of couples therapy.

4.5
It Takes Two
Photo: Electronic Arts

Though It Takes Two focuses on two people trying to repair a broken relationship, there’s no unlockable achievement for doing so. The trophies earned in-game tend to be rewards for completing optional activities, a subtle bit of reconditioning that will have you focusing less on big-picture “winning” and more on the journey itself. After all, a good relationship isn’t something you can “beat,” but rather a feat that requires constant care.

Each of the metaphorical levels in It Takes Two offers players the opportunity to practice the different ways—among them communication, collaboration, and respect—in which two people can work together to sustain a friendship, let alone a romance. In short, this genre-bending co-op platformer from Hazelight Studios uses a smorgasbord of gameplay techniques, buttressed by a lot of attentive small touches, to set us adrift in the field of couples therapy.

It Takes Two isn’t subtle, but that’s by design, as its narrative is willed into being by a child’s imagination. Cody, a stay-at-home father and jack-of-all-trades, and his wife, May, a talented, workaholic engineer, are getting a divorce, and their desperate young daughter, Rose, makes a tearful wish for them to work out their problems. In a sort of Honey I Shrunk the Kids-meets-Toy Story twist, Cody and May find themselves trapped within the bodies of their daughter’s tiny dolls, and are forced by Dr. Hakim, an anthropomorphized self-help book, to collaborate with one another if they want to return to human form. In the world of the game, each section of Cody and May’s home is designed to force them to work past their issues, such as the way they have to use magnets in order to revive the attraction that once brought them together.

Though It Takes Two has a lot in common with Hazelight’s A Way Out, like the use of split-screen that affords equal weight to the main characters’ perspectives, this game’s fantastical setting sets it apart. A visit to a pillow fort that doubles as a space station’s mission control introduces anti-gravity mechanics, and a sequence within a broken cuckoo clock adds time-warping powers into the mix. As if the sheer variety of gameplay elements weren’t enough, Cody and May are granted a unique power in each new area, so once you’ve run through the Tree House as Cody, using a sap-launching mortar to weigh down various objects, you may be compelled to give the level another go as May, who wields a matchstick-firing rifle.

For all of It Takes Two’s wackiness—such as a Street Fighter-esque battle between May and a military-minded squirrel atop a glider piloted by Cody—the game has a remarkably solid emotional through line. Moon Baboon is a ridiculous-looking stuffed monkey in a spacesuit, but the data he shares about how much anxiety and sadness Cody and May have neglectfully inflicted on their daughter really hits home. And you’ll feel more than a little guilt during a showdown with the elephant Queen Cutie III, whom you’ve selfishly decided to harm, all in the hopes of making Rose cry curse-reversing tears. We’ve all likely had something in our childhood that we loved as much as Rose cares for Cutie, so it’s intensely agonizing to be forced to rip apart this adorable, defenseless elephant, ignoring its pained pleas of friendship.

It may occasionally seem like It Takes Two is overstuffed. In the Garden level, for instance, you don’t just temporarily ride around on some friendly spiders, webbing yourself from floor to ceiling, but you also bum a ride off two enterprising, high-jumping frogs who run a taxi stand. But this, too, is in the spirit of scrutinizing every inch of Cody and May’s relationship. There’s plenty to discover—25 minigames and a bevy of hidden nooks like an acorn-powered research lab and an insectoid health spa—but there’s not an inconsequential moment among them.

In It Takes Two’s second half, Cody and May must wade through levels structured around their shared memories—levels so richly detailed that you’ll want to soak every inch of them in, rather than plow through them. Cody’s nervous marriage proposal at a ski resort is a crucial part of the glue that holds him and May together, but so is the time you spend ice-skating, making sloppy snow angels, and lobbing snowballs at each other during optional activities. The game understands relationships as tapestries, and, in the same spirit, the numerous obstacles that May faces when attempting to rekindle her musical passions—snake-like microphones, darkened catwalks, imprisoned performers, and bouncers in glow-stick form—speak to the truth that a relationship rarely falls apart because of any single problem.

Time and again, It Takes Two finds new ways to demonstrate how vital communication and effort are in getting two individuals on the same page. It even riffs on classic toys like the Etch A Sketch and See ‘n Say, as well as seminal video games (like Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road, Crash Bandicoot’s chase sequences, or Diablo’s isometric combat), to bring that message to us. But even when it isn’t toying with our nostalgia and just reveling in the sublimely ridiculous, the game is sneakily, delicately balancing our desire to remain kids at heart with the reality of our adult responsibilities. That’s a valuable lesson, and it’s one that the developers at Hazelight deliver without making it feel like they’re tasking us with grown-up homework.

The game was reviewed using a code provided by Electronic Arts.

Developer: Hazelight Studios Publisher: Electronic Arts Platform: PlayStation 5 Release Date: March 26, 2021 ESRB: T Buy: Game

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