I like you, but I don't know if I like-like you
It Takes Two is a co-op only puzzle platformer that will dazzle you with mechanics and visual charm while telling you a story that doesn’t land the emotional blows it sets itself up for.
The game follows the soon-to-be divorcing couple, May and Cody. After telling their daughter Rose, she then takes dolls of her parents into the shed in order to repair their relationship. Upon crying on the dolls, May and Cody suddenly become the dolls. After meeting the instantly grating talking book, Dr. Hakim, they must learn to work together as they traverse puzzles, platforming, and stages that go on just a bit too long.
Hazelight practically stands alone in their quest to make extremely polished, creative and unique co-op experiences. Like their previous title, A Way Out, It Takes Two can only be played with another person, either locally or online. In a great move, purchasing the game once allows you to give your partner a ‘friend pass’ meaning they can play the game with you without having to buy it, which is a brilliant touch.
It Takes Two is so relentlessly creative. I lost count of the number of times I’d say ‘Oh, that’s cool’ when reaching a new mechanic or doing one of the several minigames that are strewn throughout the world. There are a few instances, however, where the game will stay with one mechanic for too long and it’ll begin to overstay its welcome. A section set in a snow globe in the back half of the game dragged. There’s an overuse of having to do something three times, which is appropriate for a game that trades so heavily on mechanical references to other games.
The levels themselves are absolutely incredible. There’s so much detail in each stage that you could literally spend three hours just walking around and interacting with all the small elements that the developers have included. This could be something like a Guitar Hero-like rhythm game for you and your partner to compete at or even just a toy plane to fly around in.
Special mention has to go to the final environment which takes place amongst some discarded musical equipment. Not only are the puzzles here some of my favourite in the whole game, the visuals and colour palette are just incredible. So rarely is a game’s final level a true summation of everything the game is trying to achieve, but It Takes Two nails, even if the conclusion narratively didn’t feel as earned as I’d have liked.
Speaking of visuals, on the PlayStation 5, It Takes Two looks incredible. The lighting specifically had me stop multiple times just to run in and out of these impeccably implemented beans of sunlight bursting through a broken tree stump. May and Cody’s character models are both also incredibly detailed, if you get the camera close enough to either, you’ll see creases in their clothes and imperfections in Cody’s clay body that you’d never see sitting 10ft away on the couch.
Unfortunately, I simply did not like either of the main characters. In order for me to have some kind of investment in them getting back together, I have to believe that they’re a couple that I want to see in a happy, loving relationship. After finishing the game, it seems to me like they made the right decision to separate. The game takes far too long to deploy the ‘maybe we were good together after all’ introspection and the reasons for the breakup in the first place seem weak. Other than the fact that they’re consistently horrible to each other and I couldn’t imagine living with someone who talked to me like that for one second, nevermind have a child with them. A child who is very clearly voiced by an adult and thus comes across incredibly creepy.
I didn’t find Dr. Hakim funny once. Not once. I laughed a few times when May and Cody were quipping back and forth, but every time that book popped back up with his Watto from The Phantom Menace accent I rolled my eyes. This becomes especially annoying in the final third when you’re repeatedly sent back to watch him dance around in your face, rather than finish the game just as it’s picking up momentum.
The animals, toys and talking plants you meet along your journey are often charming, but they never stick around long enough to be truly memorable. Except in one specific case with an elephant that I won’t spoil, but let’s just say it nearly made me stop playing the game out of guilt.
It Takes Two is absolutely stuffed with 10 games worth of mechanics, visual flair and creativity. In terms of games to sit on the couch and playthrough with a partner, Hazelight stands alone in their commitment to the genre, a lead I wish more developers would follow. I really liked everything in It Takes Two apart from the story. I couldn’t empathise with either of the characters and thus my motivation to even finish the game from a narrative point of view wasn’t there. I just didn’t see the development between the happy couple you’re shown on a snowy holiday together and the one you’re playing as, patronising and condescending each other through 10ish hours of playtime.