It was after A Way Out that I came to realise that Josef Fares is a game designer like no other. The once filmmaker creates strictly cooperative experiences which force players to band together to get the job done. In that sense, It Takes Two is the perfect title for his much lighter, more jovial exercise of couples therapy. As a two-player experience, it’s second to none when it comes to cooking up engaging ways for players to come together while creating a real shared joy that outlasts, outshines and, in some regards, makes up for other areas where It Takes Two doesn’t quite get it right.
The focus of It Takes Two is the splintered marriage of Cody and May and its effects on their daughter Rose, who inadvertently turns the pair into small, handmade dolls with her spellbinding tears. Once pint-size, the two must work together to navigate and survive the underfoot terrors they once had the good fortune to overlook.
Although their bickering acts as a playful foil for the pair throughout the game’s opening acts, I feel much of their development feels forced and never amounts to anything that feels remotely organic. There’s moments that stick out as a result of the game’s fantastical premise that just seem outlandish and insane, such as Rose — a child — not paying any mind at all to her mother taking the world’s longest nap on the couch while her dad sits upright in a fugue state in his study. It’s absurdist levity, never taking itself serious even for a beat.
It’s apparent that the moment to moment gameplay is the true driving force of It Takes Two and perhaps that’s why I found the narrative didn’t resonate with me, from the premise itself right through to its safely played, cliche closing — which is surprising after having been wounded by Fares’ past works, which I feel took greater risks.
Where the narrative falters, the game part of It Takes Two is a genuine blast. It’s pure, unadulterated fun that focuses on variety as much as anything else, so much so that Hazelight took the care to craft entire game mechanics for throwaway moments that last sixty seconds. Though it’s largely an action-platformer, It Takes Two has nods to isometric dungeon crawlers like Diablo, brawlers like Street Fighter and rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution. It Takes Two winds up being a clown car of video game homages that is insanely fun to play, though the often tenuous dot-connects made between the several unique mechanics and the plot don’t often serve to drive the story forward. It’s a problem It Takes Two suffers from nearer to the end of its ten-hour journey as the stranger links to Cody and May’s life — his green thumb and her penchant for singing — seemed far less inspired.
Exactly like A Way Out did before it, It Takes Two has a lot of extremely well hidden mini-games for players to strain the friendship with. From a simple tug of war to an actual working game of chess, there’s certainly a lot of laughs to be had in revelling in each other’s many failures.
Perhaps it’s A Way Out’s fault for giving me a preconception of what to expect from a Josef Fares title, but It Takes Two doesn’t nail it when it comes to pacing. It felt as though the game’s more memorable moments were flash in the pan while later areas tended to drag due to a constant stream of roadblocks being thrown at the players — often perpetrated by that blasted Dr. Hakim, the anthropomorphic guide to love that serves as the pair’s unwelcome quasi-counsel.
With the exception of the human characters, who we fortunately don’t spend a great deal of time with, It Takes Two is a beautiful game. The game’s many worlds, which felt both grounded and fantastically conceptual all at once, are so well-realised and established within the pair’s home and history. I particularly loved the game’s first level, which takes place in the shed which is under threat from an oppressive, neglected toolbox. There are many highlights though, I also enjoyed the level that took place inside the inner workings of a cuckoo clock, which serves as a hamfisted but heartfelt nod to the lack of time Cody and May spared for each other during their marriage. Although it’s not as consistent across the board, I got a real Banjo-Kazooie vibe from the many worlds of It Takes Two, each with its own self-contained story within a story.
Similar to Obsidian’s Grounded, It Takes Two does a nice job of playing with scale. Having our heroes explore a pretty common home and have it be this overwhelming, massive obstacle was so clever and I particularly enjoyed how often we’d come across regular household items as bosses. Running into the discarded vacuum, hurt at being replaced by a newer model, made for a pretty hilarious interaction, which is something It Takes Two does very well. For our miniscule man and wife, it’s a big journey with a big heart that suffers from a disappointing ending as well as a bloated runtime.
THE PS5 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Although the story of Cody and May doesn’t meet the standards set by the game’s varied gameplay, It Takes Two sees the continued form of Josef Fares and his team at Hazelight in crafting wonderfully creative and engaging worlds for players to share and collaborate in. It Takes Two is a co-op experience that’s second to none, which offers more ways than you can imagine to experience these larger than life play spaces.