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It Takes Two Is An Essential Co-Op Experience

It Takes Two is a beautifully weird and stunningly self-assured game that places cooperation front and center.



It Takes Two Review

Developer: Hazelight Studios | Publisher: EA | Genre: Co-Op Adventure | Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series | Reviewed on: PlayStation 5

Big online multiplayer experiences have defined the last few months of 2021. Back 4 Blood, Halo Infinite, and new entries in the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises show that there will always be new and exciting ways to shoot at enemies and each other. But in It Takes Two, Hazelight Studios co-op-only experience released this past March, collaboration is more important than a kill/death ratio. As the year winds down, It Takes Two stands tall as not just a fantastic multiplayer game for players of any skill level, but as a reminder that splitscreen co-op can be just as engaging as any player-versus-player experience.

Image: Hazelight Studios

Collaboration Is Key

From the jump, It Takes Two is a unique take on co-op multiplayer. Teaming up with another player to finish a game is hardly a new concept, and this year alone saw Nintendo roll out WarioWare: Get It Together! as well as Mario Party Superstars, filling the “party game” niche nicely. But It Takes Two offers something different than short minigames or direct competition: a full-blown narrative adventure that can only be completed by two players working in sync. It is a simple concept, perfectly executed, and deserves recognition as one of this year’s best games to play with a partner.

It Takes Two shares some of the design philosophy that made 2018’s A Way Out stand out, though instead of relying on the tropes of prison escape films, it draws from romantic comedies at every turn. Cody and May are a couple on the brink of divorce. Their daughter, Rose, is crushed and turns to a mysterious relationship advice book for help. But rather than read passages out loud to her parents, she wishes with all her might that things might change, and Cody and May experience a little bit of magic that will change their lives. Specifically, their souls are zapped into dolls. Soon enough, Rose’s book animates into a lusty, hip-thrusting therapist who tells the couple the only way to return to their bodies is through collaboration.

The fairy-tale nature of the narrative is the perfect justification for every mechanic introduced in the game. Anything can happen, and as players move through every chapter together, they’ll experience a vast swath of different mechanics exploring different ways to achieve their goals. On the surface, It Takes Two is about a couple doing everything they can to escape their fate. But on a meta level, the game brings players together in surprising and delightful ways.

Image: Hazelight Studios

Rather than gradually building up an ever-expanding set of skills over course of It Takes Two’s nine chapters, players have pretty much everything they need from the beginning. Cody and May can double-jump, wall jump, grind on rails, and swing off ropes from almost the first hour of gameplay. It is a robust set of movement options, but It Takes Two doesn’t stop there. Seemingly every few minutes, a new multiplayer mechanic is introduced, depending on the level’s theme. One particularly memorable chapter sees players controlling time, making copies of themselves, flying on the backs of clockwork birds, and tossing bombs from said birds to blow up a protective shield blocking an objective. The variety on display is surprisingly vast and never fails to delight.

Beyond the story-based progression, chapters are sprinkled with over two dozen minigames. Most are easily found on the critical path, but a few require players to be a little more exploratory. Minigames offer a chance for players to face each other in direct competition, but the stakes are only as high as the players make them. Some are more fun than others, but they are all entirely optional. They exist as a seasoning, a little something extra to spice up the gameplay if two partners are feeling a little too chummy. Once unlocked, minigames are easily accessed from the main menu for a quick diversion.

The hat trick It Takes Two pulls is that no matter what, both players always feel like they’re contributing something to the proceedings. In some co-op campaigns, it is common practice for one player to “carry” the other. Even the best multiplayer games fall victim to this. But in It Takes Two, both players progress the action equally and are given multiple opportunities to shine. One chapter might see Cody using a new power to grow to a massive size so he can move equally huge objects, while another has May use the power of her voice to blast open doors. The most effective chapters see the couple working as a true duo, like the incredibly moving snowglobe area, where each player carries one-half of a magnet. It might feel a little on-the-nose, but it feels perfectly in line with the Hazelight Studios ethos himself.

Image: Hazelight Studios

Labor of Love

At the end of the day, It Takes Two succeeds because of the passion of its creator, which trickles down into every facet of the game. Josef Fares, of “F**k the Oscars” fame, is the beating heart of every design decision that makes this title work. As a game director, Fares uses classic design elements to inspire new conventions, and the result is that everything in It Takes Two feels modern and forward-thinking.

Rough edges have been sanded away to create a seamless experience. If one player dies during a boss battle, they pop back up in seconds. If a puzzle gives players trouble for more than a minute or so, the player characters will drop a hint that points players in the right direction. On the one hand, this makes It Takes Two feel fairly easy. But on the other, it opens the door for experienced players to play this game with a partner or loved one who may not have the same level of expertise. This is the true legacy of It Takes Two: a co-op masterpiece that provides a perfect platform to introduce non-gamers to gaming, multiplayer or otherwise. It doesn’t hurt that the art direction is through the roof, with every chapter providing multiple jaw-dropping setpieces to move through. Players may find themselves hurtling down a series of tunnels being chased by voracious moles or pumping up a crowd of party-going glowsticks, and no matter what, they’ll be doing so with a partner by their side.

Perhaps this is why It Takes Two finds itself on so many “best of” lists as the year draws to a close. The ongoing pandemic has been physically and emotionally draining, but this game provides a platform not just for escapism, but a stress-free environment to pass on passion to someone new. Even the story, which weakens in the latter third of the game, is an excuse for partners, both romantic or otherwise, to engage with each other meaningfully.

As often as possible, It Takes Two demands that players commit to collaboration in order to progress. But rather than a sense of obligation, players will find satisfaction in helping their partner succeed, and gratefulness at being helped themselves. It is a beautiful feeling. Long after the expected plot beats and rom-com tropes fade from memory, the pure joy of achieving something together will remain.

Cameron Daxon is a video game evangelist and enthusiastic reader. He lives in Los Angeles, California and once nearly collided with Shigeru Miyamoto during E3. His favorite game is Bloodborne, but only when he’s not revisiting Super Mario World. He’s also in the writer’s room for YouTube personality The Completionist and other places on the internet.