Back in 2013, Game Director Josef Fares released Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, a fun and ambitious game that was designed from the ground up to be played co-op with a friend. After the positive reception that the game received, Fares opened his own studio to continue creating cooperative multiplayer games. Hazelight Studios released A Way Out in 2018, and while the game had some good ideas it failed to garner the same critical acclaim as Brothers. So last year when Fares announced his next game, I was curious but not overly optimistic. Well I’m thrilled to say that not only is It Takes Two his best game yet, it’s quite honestly one of the most fun co-op games I’ve ever played.
The game tells the story of Cody and May, a married couple who have drifted apart over the years due to a lack of communication and appreciation for the work and sacrifices each of them has made. After the couple sits their daughter Rose down to explain that they’ll be getting a divorce, she runs and hides away with two handmade dolls that she made of her parents to try and play out a fantasy where her family can stay together. When Rose’s tears fall on the toys though, Cody and May become magically trapped inside the dolls while their human bodies sit in a trance like state.
As they try and make sense of what’s happened to them, the pair are visited by a walking and talking couples therapy book named Dr. Hakim (sounding a bit like Antonio Banderas) who tells them that the only way for them to return to their bodies is to repair their broken relationship, and that he will be their guide to reconciliation. From here the couple embark on a wild journey in and around their home to try and break the spell.
If the premise sounds a bit odd to you, that’s because it is. It is a profoundly weird game filled with bizarre and memorable characters, but as crazy as the concept of the story is, they pull it off remarkably well. The story can be a bit hokey sometimes and Dr. Hakim’s schtick most definitely wears thin by the end of the game, but the chemistry between Cody and May is quite charming and there’s a definite heart at the core of the game. I was invested in their journey from the start and wanted to see how it played out. The well done voice acting also goes a long way towards selling you on the characters and making you care about their story. The story though, isn’t what makes It Takes Two so special, that distinction goes to the absolutely stellar gameplay and level design.
Each trial that Dr. Hakim puts the couple through takes the form of a level set in and around the house, some of which are more realistic representations of the environment, while others are more whimsical and abstract. One level takes place in and around your garden’s greenhouse, with players bouncing off of flower petals and battling rampant weeds and critters. Another takes place inside of a snow globe that the couple got as a souvenir on their first vacation together and transports players to a beautiful European mountain village. This gorgeous holiday getaway is full of great little details and activities to find simply for the fun of it such as snowball fights, sledding, and a ride on a ferris wheel. During our playthrough my wife and I loved exploring each of the levels just to play around with all of these neat little touches. And each world in the game feels completely unique and is utterly beautiful, like a romantic comedy set in the world that feels like a combination of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Alice in Wonderland.
Like all of the games from Hazelight, It Takes Two is meant to be played cooperatively either through couch co-op or online play (they even include a free friend pass so only one of you needs to own the game for online play). While not allowing the game to be played solo with an AI partner may exclude some people from being able to play it, the design of the game is such that it feels like the right decision. The co-op nature of the game is what really makes it stand out and they handle that cooperation brilliantly. While some co-op games merely have two players playing alongside each other doing mostly the same things, this game gives Cody and May their own unique powers and abilities and, like the name implies, requires you to work together throughout the entire game to make it through. If you aren’t able to work as a team, you won’t get very far.
Each area will give the pair a different set of abilities to use that are unique to that level and complement each other with regards to gameplay. One example being that in the greenhouse level Cody will have plant abilities which allow him to shoot vines to pull down flying insects while May has a scythe to hack them when they are pulled down low. Another level which features a time theme gives Cody the ability to pause or rewind time while May can create duplicates of herself to be in two places at once. In every instance you need to work as a team to progress and it keeps the game fresh and exciting to have new mechanics introduced so often.
As great as it is to work together, there are times when you might feel a bit competitive and It Takes Two accounts for that as well. Hidden throughout each level you’ll find mini games where the two of you can play against each other in games like tug of war, chess, shuffleboard, and even a Guitar Hero style video game. It’s a nice little diversion that gives players some bragging rights in what is otherwise an experience focused on teamwork.
I should mention that I do see the possibility for some heated experiences though. While not a particularly difficult game, there are some challenging moments throughout that may test your teamwork skills. Combined with the fact that I think many players may use this game as an attempt to introduce their non-gaming partners to their favorite hobby and you had better make sure that your relationship is on more stable ground than Cody and May’s.
At the end of the game, my wife and I were both sad to see it come to an end. It Takes Two is one of the most entertaining and creative co-op games that we’ve ever played together and one that we’ll be anxious to revisit in the future. Thankfully, the abilities being unique to each character mean that we’ll be able to swap roles and get a new experience on a second playthrough. That combined with having to find the minigames that we missed the first time around means that there is lots of replayability to be had.
It Takes Two is imaginative, funny, thrilling, and sweet. It’s a story about the challenges that come with relationships and the lengths you need to go to nourish them. It’s a wonderful experience to have with a partner (or any co-op friend) that, like a healthy marriage, will stand the test of time.