Video Game Reviews

It Takes Two (to Write This Review): Cooperation Is Key

It Takes Two is the latest action-adventure game from Hazelight Studios, the developer responsible for the 2018’s A Way Out.

While I never played A Way Out, I did hear great things about it. The thing that really stuck in my head was that it was a co-op only game, meaning that it required two humans — no A.I.’s allowed — to play. 

I thought that it was an amazing, if somewhat risky, move. At the time I thought “I’d like to play that,” but I was also pretty sure it would be hard to convince my main co-op partner (read: wife) to play it with me. 

In 2020 I started seeing advertisements and trailers for It Takes Two. It had the same co-op only gimmick, but it had replaced a gritty prison-break setting with the colorful tale of a soon-to-be divorced couple being turned into dolls by their daughter.

I can only assume she was using the same magic that forced Jim Carrey to tell the truth in Liar Liar.

This, I thought, would be a much easier game to sell to my wife.

It immediately became one of our most hotly-anticipated games. 

Now that we’ve finished it, I’ll give you a rundown on what makes this game a blast to play. I’ll also have my wife give her two cents. After all, the game required us to work together. We might as well continue that for this post. 

Two Way Street

The game begins with Cody and May, a couple on the brink of devorce, trying to explain to their adolescent daughter, Rose, that they are breaking up. Rose leaves to play with some dolls that she made of her parents and play-acts them fixing their relationship. While playing, she becomes overwhelmed with emotion, and her tears fall on the dolls.

Cody and May then find their consciousnesses trapped within Rose’s dolls. As they try to figure out how and why this happened, the “Book of Love” appears and tries to force them to cooperate because…

The two try to ignore him and make it to their daughter, hoping that she will know how to break the curse, but the book places obstacles in their path to force them to work together and begin to repair their relationship.

While the story isn’t overly complicated, you really get a feel for who Cody and May were and how their bond slowly fell apart over the course of their relationship. 

I will say that at first I was a little iffy on the plot focusing on forcing two people to reconcile their marriage. But the story was told well enough that it never became the issue that I anticipated. 

Wife says:

The best part of the story, for me, was that it focused on a stay-at-home dad and a working mom. I love that it bent the typical narrative in this way. 

The worst part? With a few people in my personal life going through divorces of their own, it hit a little too close at home at times. 

I also didn’t love the assumption, from the very beginning, that the two of them staying together was the “right” decision. Like Vuk said, it didn’t become as big of an issue as I thought it would, but it still wasn’t great

Better Than One

A game that can only be played cooperatively sounds tricky, but It Takes Two takes this premise and executes it almost flawlessly.

At the start of each session, each player selects the character that they would like to play as. The options are May, the wooden doll; or Cody, the clay figurine. 

While it’s not really important which character you choose, it should be noted that the two characters have different experiences throughout the game, creating a dynamic relationship between the two players. 

For example, during the opening level, May acquires a hammer head that she can use to pound things down or grab onto certain surfaces. Cody, meanwhile, receives nails that he can throw to activate switches, create handholds, or pin certain objects in place. 

This means that, within the first area, Cody is often trying to position himself to help May across platforming segments, while it’s May’s job to remove obstacles in Cody’s path.

I don’t want to spoil any of the other levels, but suffice to say that there are a good number of these individualized segments, and they are the best of what the game has to offer.

Wife says:

Let’s be real: the worst part of playing couch co-ops is knowing that Vuk will destroy the level and find everything worth finding before I’ve managed to remember what my controls do. 

My usual play-style.

With It Takes Two, he didn’t have that option. The game is designed for both players to do their part. As a result, he had to deal with the fact that I’m not as good as he is at platforming… and I didn’t get frustrated by feeling like I was just dragging behind him like a kite string tied to a motorcycle. 

Mini Games for Days

One of It Takes Two’s standout features is the sheer number of minigames offered throughout. 

What makes these even better is that they are, somewhat counterintuitively, competitive games.

Because nothing strengthens a marriage like competitive gaming.

Here are just a few of the games on offer:

  • Whack-a-Mole
  • Slotcar races
  • Long Jump
  • Shuffleboard
  • Snowball fight
  • Chess
  • Battle tanks

In total, the game has 25 different minigames that will test your skills against your fellow player. They are all fun to play, however, they were not all created equally. Some have pretty poor descriptions of the controls involved, which can lead to a few rounds of play-testing to figure out exactly how best to trounce one another. 

There is one other thing about the minigames that’s less than ideal, and that’s finding them.

Near the beginning of the game “The Book of Love” says that you can find the games if you listen for “this sound.” The sound he was referring to was that of a tambourine being shaken ever-so-gently. It was almost inaudible, especially once you consider the background noises of the game itself. 

Honestly, we happened upon the games more by accident than anything else. 

The good news is that there is a menu that tells you if you’ve missed any of the minigames, and another one that can take to you the exact chapter that the game is in. So, even if you miss them the first time you play, going back and finding them is pretty simple. 

Wife says:

While I enjoyed the minigames a great deal, Vuk definitely had the advantage on most of them because he has so much more gaming experience than I do. I’d have loved it if a few more of the games were designed to be beaten by thinking instead of just mashing buttons quickly and aiming your toggle stick, because then I at least would have felt like I had a chance of beating Vuk more than one in every 6-10 rounds. 

Chess was a nice addition, though. I didn’t win, but it actually felt like an equal match-up. 

Idle Chit-Chat

One of my favorite aspects of the game is simply the relationship between the two protagonists. Sure, they snipe at one another throughout most of the game, but they were clearly once the best of friends, and it shows in the amount of bittersweet dialog shared between them.

While I won’t say that the voice acting was always completely top notch, it was good. It was always believable and delivered in a way that made me feel like the relationship between May and Cody was real. 

While most of the dialog in the game happens when you reach specific points, some of the most poignant and informative dialog can only be found by scouring each level with both characters.

So, if you’re into learning every little thing, you may want to consider who you’re playing with, lest you hear “Oh my god, what are you doing?” every five minutes as you try to explore. 

Conversely, if you’d like to get on with your day, you really don’t want to get paired with someone who spends 10 minutes climbing the same stack of books hoping to “find something.”

There’s NOTHING UP THERE. Give it a rest!

Wife says:

I’ll admit, I can be a bit more of a “rush headlong into things” player. I tend to have a short attention span, and I like to know I’ll complete a game in full before my brain moves onto the Next Big Thing. But I liked the chit-chat between May and Cody enough that I joined Vuk in exploring. 

It helped that exploring was just plain fun. There were things to bounce on and climb underneath, so exploring any given level tickled that child-like curiosity most of us have been taught to suppress. 

A Great Combo

Overall, It Takes Two is an amazing game. The sheer number of games, game mechanics, and concepts crammed into it is awe-inspiring to begin with, and the fact that it stays cohesive throughout is a testament to the developers’ dedication. 

The story, while a little lacking in weight at times, is heartfelt and grounded—even when you’re dodging dust bunnies that have been hurled at you by a sentient vacuum. Add to everything else the fact that this game is co-op—one of my favorite types of game—and you have a recipe for something special. 

I’m giving It Takes Two a stunning 9/10 for daring to be co-op only, and seamlessly blending so many game types that it kind of made my head spin. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go talk to my daughter and make sure that she never beckons to an ancient mystical force that turns me into an animal or something just to teach me an important life lesson…

That’s what video games are for. 

Wife says:

It Takes Two blew me out of the water. I was legitimately excited to play every night and disappointed when it ended — not because the ending was bad (it was solid), but because I just didn’t want to quit playing. 

It’s some of the most fun Vuk and I have had together in a while, and I really appreciated that they didn’t just make the game “co-op compatible,” but that it was legitimately designed with the enjoyment of two different people in mind. 

I’m also giving it an amazing 9/10, with that one extra point removed because the story was a little trite and the animation when the characters were in the “real world” wasn’t given as much love and attention as the animation when they were in their doll form. But those two issues were barely consequential when every other aspect of the game was so en pointe.