A cozy night shared over the warm glow of your video game console always makes for a decent date. But a handful of evenings spent with It Takes Two is a next-level romantic adventure.
For one thing, developer Hazelight Studios’ adorable puzzle-platformer — a stunning co-op game my significant other and favorite gaming pal described as being like “a DreamWorks movie you can play” — has a charming premise clearly made with couples in mind.
Together, players embody wife May, a witty engineer, and husband Cody, a warm-hearted gardener. At the start, our couple is raising their daughter Rose in an idyllic countryside home, complete with some amazing toys and a jungle-like greenhouse. But the pair’s impending divorce (we see just how much May and Cody argue early on) and a bit of better-left-unspoiled magic soon turn the family’s world upside down and the central quest of It Takes Two begins.
In an instant, May and Cody are just a few inches tall, and made of clay, yarn, and other crafting supplies. They’ve inexplicably transformed into two of Rose’s handmade dolls, and their only hope for getting back to reality depends on the two soon-to-be-ex-spouses working together.
“JUST FOLLOW THE POTATO! THE POTATO IS ME!”
What follows is a spectacularly whacky journey that blends teeny-tiny Honey, I Shrunk the Kids antics with a sprawling Inside Out-like fantasy world populated by enchanting beings of all kinds. The story isn’t exactly a winner — the relationship at its center is sure to be divisive, and with good reason (more on that later) — but its characters are undeniably captivating.
Cuddly critters you can ride, ferocious foes you must defeat, a talking self-help book named Dr. Hakim (who serves as May and Cody’s de facto marriage counselor and the game’s main scene stealer), and more goofballs fill out a quirky universe full of sharp dialogue and dreamy visuals that make suspending your disbelief fun and easy. That my partner and I routinely found ourselves screaming nonsense like “No, I said punch the other goopy thing!” and “Just follow the potato! THE POTATO IS ME!” speaks for itself.
In Dr. Hakim we trust.
Image: hazelight studios/ea
It Takes Two’s zany cast shepherds you across nine different levels, each of which blends whimsy, action, emotion, and cooperative gameplay in increasingly satisfying ways.
The experience of playing It Takes Two is remarkably varied, equipping you and your partner with new, complementary abilities and tools in each level. Experiencing both sides of gameplay is a great argument for playing twice. You’ll sling, jump, glide, fly, and swim your way through tons of challenging obstacles, some magical and some not, but each creative and rewarding for players to overcome. In just the first level, a shed inhabited by killer tools, my partner and I solved puzzles with vacuum tubes, traversed platforms by swinging on nails and made friends with a talking hammer. (Meanwhile, May and Cody’s catatonic human bodies just kind of “nap” in the house? While a totally oblivious Rose brings the quasi-corpses weird gifts? Yeah, that part is just creepy.)
It Takes Two’s ebb and flow of realism and fantasy keeps it entertainingly unpredictable throughout. This means some levels are more grounded than others. After the kooky tool shed, May and Cody are forced to navigate an ongoing war between bees and squirrels — using a nectar gun and some matches to start some seriously hazardous fire conditions. Shortly after that, they’re fighting a stuffed toy called “Moon Baboon” in an outer space level that requires anti-gravity boots for May and a size-changing power for Cody. As a matter of taste, you’re sure to like some levels more than others, but rest assured: the game never gets so kid-friendly as to be cloying for adult players.
Believe it or not, this is all happening *inside* a bee hive.
Image: hazelight studios/ea
Turns out, I’m not great at speed chess… but my boyfriend seriously sucks at snail races.
Along their voyage, May and Cody squabble and joke in a remarkably well-written series of cutscenes and dialogue exchanges that give us a more complete picture of their wavering bond. As teammates, you must keep up a similar dialogue: encouraging, instructing, and helping each other through a marathon of ever-changing obstacles.
Thankfully, It Takes Two has a fairly forgiving save structure — meaning the less skilled player won’t get left behind during boss fights and action sequences. But when it comes to doing puzzles and exploring areas, coordinating your choices is essential. Something as simple as going left when your partner goes right can force you to restart from the last checkpoint.
Don’t think it’s all collaboration though. Opportunities for friendly competition are scatted throughout in the form of optional mini games that make for ample fun in their own right. Turns out, I’m not great at speed chess… but my boyfriend seriously sucks at snail races. (Sorry, honey.)
Ice skating in ‘It Takes Two’ is perfection.
Image: hazelight studios/ea
That said, running between 10 and 14 hours a playthrough, It Takes Two can feel overstuffed. It’s a problem compounded by the game’s ending, which I won’t spoil but readily admit made the last two hours a chore. See, as interesting as the world Cody and May inhabit can be, the heroes themselves struggle to ever achieve a relationship worth caring about. Truly, their dynamic is so oversimplified that anyone with even the smallest amount of personal experience with divorce is likely to find its suggestions of “Just make time for each other!” and “Feed your passions!” laughable. For this reason alone, consider breaking up your gameplay across multiple nights; two sessions was pushing it for our emotional endurance.
Still, there’s so much to love in this tremendously well executed game that I absolutely have to recommend. It’s cute, fun, and sweet. Plus, what it lacks in heart, you and your player two can provide all on your own. Happy date night, gamers.
It Takes Two is available March 26 on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X.
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