Believe it or not, reviewing a video game is usually a pretty stressful experience. With pre-release code often showing up just days before launch, the second that email arrives, the race against time begins. Those evening plans you had with friends? No longer happening. That TV show you wanted to catch up on or that workout you wanted to start? Nope – there’s only the game now.
While there are obviously far worse fates than spending several days playing video games, it’s the limited time in which you have to complete them that makes the review process feel so bizarrely intense. From the second the sun rises until you start to nod off, your assigned pixelated playground becomes your entire world – your personal Everest. If you’re reviewing the dreaded AAA open world epic, days are split into three five-hour shifts, with cooking meals or a swift walk providing a brief respite from the mounting pressure of hitting the credits before that looming embargo. Yet even when popping to the shop for a loaf of bread, your impending deadline lingers in the mind – hanging over you like that horrific-looking moon from Majora’s Mask.
In other words, reviewing video games is a uniquely strange and intense experience – and one that it’s increasingly hard for my friends to understand when I suddenly vanish off of the face of the Earth. Yet thanks to Hazelight studio’s It Takes Two, I finally got to give a mate a glimpse into my strange little world. This colourful rom-com inspired adventure is the latest in EA’s indie-centric Original’s label, and in 2021 represents the rarest type of video game – a completely co-op, story-led adventure. While many games have a few co-op elements or token multiplayer modes, like director Josef Fares’ previous title, A Way Out, It Takes Two can only be played with two players.
Inspired by Pixar romps like Toy Story, this charming rom-com platformer sees players put into the shoes of estranged husband and wife Cody and Mae. After years of passion dulled by parenthood and resentment fostered from mutually unfulfilled dreams, our story begins with this mid 30s married couple at the very end of their respective tethers. Their solution? A well-earned divorce.Their young daughter Rose, however, isn’t so keen on the prospect of two Christmases, and as her magical tears land on two creepy homemade effigies of her parents, Cody and Mae suddenly find themselves transformed into dolls.
Stuck in their new toy-like talismans, it’s up to the furious couple to work together in order to get back to normality. Relatable, stuff, right? Yet after years of reviewing games in solitude, I too now suddenly myself thrust into an equally unlikely partnership. In order to get this review done, I had to recruit a partner to help me save this virtual marriage and finish this video game just in the nick of time – and thanks to my mate Jack’s luscious long locks, he was the perfect choice for my new clay-moulded wife.
Taking its core from a mish mash of rom coms and seemingly the plots of every Pixar movie, there are no prizes for guessing how this story ends. Yet while the tired tale may not win any awards for originality, the wonderfully varied gameplay more than makes up for it. Fittingly for a game about a pair of anthropomorphic toys, there’s a real sense of playfulness to every part in It Takes Two.
From the (many) hidden competitive mini-games littered about each eye-catching world to the interactable objects that serve no purpose other than to elicit a smile, this is a game that refuses to let you leave without having a good time. With you and your partner’s tiny avatars travelling across nine different sandboxes throughout the game’s lengthy story, somehow, the platforming never seems to get old. Whether it’s arming you with matchstick flamethrowers in a bee’s nest or fitting a Conker’s Furday inspired squirrel on top of a biplane made from Cody’s underwear, unlike the story beats It Takes Two’s gameplay is rarely predictable. Much like with Mario’s most revered outings, It Takes Two is simply brimming with invention – hitting players with a relentless barrage of new ideas and gameplay mechanics that doesn’t really let up until the credits roll.
Speaking of which, it will take a fair while before you manage to reach It Takes Two finale – with our playthrough clocking in at around 16 hours. A 15-20 hour run time is a tall ask of a co-op platformer – especially when a predictable story and forgettable dialogue makes it hard to keep you truly invested in any of the three main characters. Yet despite both Jack and I’s eyes’ glazing over during late game cutscenes, just as exasperation started to hit, each new world would reveal a delightful unexpected new mechanic that would fill us with a newfound vitality.
For such a long game, very few platforming sections or mechanics repeat themselves. The trick? Give players new toys to play with. In most of its nine visually stunning worlds, each character will suddenly find themselves imbued with a new unique ability – courtesy of one of the most irritating characters in video games, a talking book named Dr Hakim.
As our divorcing couple edge ever closer to their goal of finding their daughter Rose and breaking her spell, this waste of paper will gleefully appear, spouting a cringey attempt at comic relief before halting your progress and diverting you somewhere else. Of course, this character is supposed to unite you and your co-op buddy against him, further strengthening May and Cody’s bond, but christ is he irritating. I’ve never advocated for book burnings, but for Dr Hakim I might make an exception.
Still, his one saving grace is the litany of brilliant powers he gifts you.While I’m hesitant to spoil too many of them, these wonderfully inventive abilities make the game. Whether it’s Cody being able to throw nails while Mae wields an almighty hammer, or our tiny couple both flinging themselves around inside a snow globe using different polarity magnets, levels aren’t designed so that you just share this world – but so that you literally can’t go on without each other.
It’s this absolute reliance on your co-op partner to solve a series of platforming-based puzzles that results in some of the game’s most hilarious moments. When armed with the aforementioned hammer and nails, one particular puzzle required me to carefully launch nails at switches to make different platforms appear. While doing this, old Jacky boy would have to jump from platform to platform, requiring clear communication and perfect synchronisation from us both. We had neither of those. Much to Jack’s increased frustration, we simply could not get in sync.
As he leapt left, my nails went right. As he attempted to launch himself from a newly made platform, my nail would retract it. This comedy of errors lead to a series of increasingly ridiculous multiplayer mishaps that made me laugh harder than any video game has in a long while. And really, that’s what’s so brilliant about It Takes Two. While the core story may disappoint, every duo who plays it will come away from the experience with their own rib-tickling moments.
It may fail as a traditional love story, but as a love letter to video games, It Takes Two is an absolute triumph. Paying homage to everything from classic beat ‘em ups to Mario Kart, and giving nods to games as diverse as Prince Of Persia and Sunset Overdrive, It Takes Two’s inventive collision of wildly different game mechanics results in something that always feels comfortingly familiar yet refreshingly unique. It’s a sentiment that sums up this review process as a whole, really.
With code coming in just 24 hours before launch, Jack had the pleasure of experiencing regular lengthy back to back play sessions – much to his audible delight. Yet by reviewing a game with a mate, my usually solitary stress became a shared burden – one made less lonely and intense by the sound of laughter echoing around my headset. Shout out to my main boy Jacky C. Despite our exasperated groans by the end of it, even during our pressurised playthrough, It Takes Two managed to connect the two of us from the other side of London, bringing two friends who hadn’t seen each other in months more than their fair share of chuckles.
‘It Takes Two’ is now available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, and PC.
Its ‘heartfelt’ rom-com story may elicit more shrugs than tears, but if video games are primarily a tool for facilitating fun and laughter, then It Takes Two is nothing short of a triumph. With each copy coming with a ‘friend pass’ that allows you to gift it to another player, whether you’re playing with someone you live with or a friend on the other side of the planet – It Takes Two is exactly the kind of carefree social experience that the world needs right now.
- Endlessly inventive co-op platforming that never feels predictable
- Each world is refreshingly different from the last
- A toybox bursting full of opportunities for co-op hijinx
- A next gen visual treat, thanks to highly detailed lush Pixar-esque environments
- The heartfelt story elicits more shrugs than tears
- Dr Hakim is intensely annoying
- The space world pales in comparison to the brilliance before and after