It Takes Two Review
Co-op puzzle platforming that's a joy to play
When Hazelight Studios released their debut cooperative experience A Way Out back in 2018, it was fair to say that it was a solid game. The narrative was particularly engaging and thrilling, and the gameplay was quality for the most part, but it did suffer in the end from subpar controls and awkward gunplay. It Takes Two, the latest co-op only adventure developed by the Swedish Studio offers up yet another high quality experience. The story it tells may not be as impactful as it would like to be, but the sheer class of It Takes Two's co-op puzzle platforming makes for a journey that is a joy to play.
It Takes Two quickly introduces us to Cody and May, a struggling married couple that are planning to divorce. While the two seem to be at peace with their decision, the same can't be said for their young daughter Rose, whose desire for them to be together is evident in the play sessions she has with toys she made to resemble her parents. Cody and May tell Rose of their plans to separate, which in turn sees Rose retrieve her parent dolls and sneak out to the family shed to process the news.
She enlists the help of a book titled "The Book of Love" written by a love expert known as Dr. Hakim, using it to show the doll versions of her parents that love is a challenge and that they must work together to fix it. Rose ends up crying while holding the dolls, covering the two in tears in the process. Not long after, Cody and May awake to find that their consciousness have been placed into the dolls, with their only hope of returning back to their original bodies is to heed the advice of Dr. Hakim, whose existence now manifests in the Book of Love. The duo are then whisked off on a journey that sees them work together to make their way to various locations throughout their property in their "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" form.
The narrative feels like something that you'd expect in a Pixar film, however it does stumble somewhat in its execution. While the romantic comedy vibe is definitely visible and there are some hilarious moments such as being recruited by a crew of Squirrels to kill their Wasp enemies, or coming face to face with an angry talking vacuum that hates Cody and May for abandoning him and leaving him unrepaired in the shed, something just feels lacking with the impact of the story. Ultimately, the narrative falters because of how little is explained regarding the reasons for Cody and May's divorce.
You come to learn that Cody feels that May works too much, which in turn May feels is unfair given that Cody wouldn't be able to maintain his stay-at-home dad lifestyle if she wasn't working as hard as she is. While this is a valid reason for there to be some tension in the relationship, the story never goes into any greater detail about other issues in their marriage, which in turn makes it impossible to understand the plights of their relationship and how that led the two to the point of divorce. Not seeing the two during happier times also makes it harder to believe that the couple were ever in love to begin with. There are of course moments where the two complement each other on different things or recall a moment from their relationship, but there aren't enough of these moments to establish that the two love each other and the relationship is one they deem worth saving (if they hadn't been turned into dolls I doubt they'd have bothered trying to patch things up). While you can still enjoy the narrative of the two working together and learning to appreciate one another again, the lack of depth in the relationship of Cody and May makes these moments far less impactful than they could have been. If more work had gone into the characters of Cody and May, the story may have hit a lot harder.
While the story is serviceable albeit disappointing in some facets, the presentation of the game's visuals is top notch. The Pixar-esque visual aesthetic is gorgeous, with each location you visit exhibiting plenty of detail. Further aiding the visuals is the solid performance of the game overall (playing on PS5), with no graphical hiccups or frame drops noticed throughout the roughly 12 hour journey. While the PS5 version offers a higher resolution and likely a more stable frame rate than its PS4 counterpart, it doesn't make use of any of the DualSense controller features, which is a bit of a shame. It's definitely not an issue, however the experience would have benefitted from the haptic feedback. At the end of the day though, being able to experience an excellent looking game that performs at a buttery smooth 60fps with a 4K resolution is the dream.
Sound design is also impressive throughout in It Takes Two. The soundtrack, while not being particularly memorable, consistently felt fitting, and the voice work of most characters is well performed. Dr. Hakim is intentionally played as a Spanish stereotype that teeters on the edge of being offensive and is really hard to like, with my co-op partner consistently annoyed every time the talking book would grace the screen. Most impressive when it comes to sound was the amount of detail put into the audio in some moments. From Cody's voice changing from high pitched to very deep as he changes size in one of the levels, to the various different effects that play depending on what type of surface you walk on, it all comes together nicely and emphasises how much detail went into the sound design. It probably isn't the easiest thing to describe in words, but it will become evident as you play.
When it comes to gameplay, It Takes Two fires on all cylinders and is one of the most fun experiences in recent memory. As the name suggests, It Takes Two requires two players, with the second player able to join through either couch co-op or online play. Like A Way Out before it, It Takes Two features a Friend's Pass that allows the owner of the game to invite a friend who doesn't need to purchase it. Better yet is that the Friend's Pass allows for cross-gen play, meaning a buddy on the previous or next gen console can still play the game alongside you. The Friend's Pass is an awesome feature that has become synonymous with Hazelight's games and it works a charm in It Takes Two.
As Cody or May, the aim of It Takes Two is to progress through various levels with the mission at large being to find out how to return to their human bodies. Levels consist of various puzzles and platforming segments that must be done cooperatively, with both Cody and May often having their own unique abilities. In one level for example, Cody has nails that he can throw to lock platforms into place, while May has a hammer she can use to swing on nails and activate switches. Another level allows Cody to slow down and reverse time, while May has the ability to clone herself. Cooperating with your partner and discovering how to combat each puzzle scenario with your given abilities is the key to success. While there are some moments where you can make your way through a level without the assistance of your partner, it won't be too long until you are stuck and need their special ability in order to progress. It Takes Two isn't the sort of cooperative experience that can be carried by an individual, it actually requires both members to contribute equally.
What's most impressive about It Takes Two is the sheer amount of variety in the gameplay mechanics and how they always feel reliable to control and fun to use. The multitude of abilities that Cody and May have each feel unique, while the platforming, combat and gameplay experience at large controls very nicely, and is a far cry from the somewhat clunkier controls in Hazelight's previous game. There are even moments throughout It Takes Two where the game shifts genres entirely, and not once did it feel like the experience was hindered as a result. One such moment sees the game shift perspective and become a top down RPG where Cody and May are equipped with basic attacks and an ultimate attack, while another sees the game briefly become a fighting game. Boss Fights at the end of levels also provide a lot of fun, serving as places for you to get the most out of your level-exclusive weapons and abilities.
Various minigames can also be found interspersed throughout each level, providing you some short and fun moments to compete instead of cooperate. They can easily be skipped and play no role in the outcome of the campaign, but they do work well as fun little distractions between lengthy periods of puzzle solving. From Volleyball, Chess, Slotcars and even Musical Chairs, there are plenty of minigames. The quality of the online servers also ensure that the game doesn't suffer from lag which could hinder the experience. Having completed the entire first playthrough via online co-op, no technical issues were experienced.
It Takes Two is one of the most impressive cooperative gameplay experiences I can recall. Its puzzle platforming gameplay is polished and it never gets stale due to the constant introduction of new abilities and weapons to tinker with. Its story may not offer the sort of emotional connection to the characters that you'd expect from what is essentially a romantic comedy, but the silliness of it can be enjoyed despite its shortcomings. At the end of the day it is an awesome co-op affair that is best played with a partner or close friend, and with the existence of the Friend's Pass they don't have any excuses not to jump in and see what It Takes Two has to offer.