Though both my husband and I are lifelong gamers, we’re only a few years into our own “co-op mode” renaissance. Before just a few years ago, the vast majority of our “together” time playing games was spent playing very separate games. With the exception of fighting games, we learned long ago that we weren’t compatible co-op players – this was thanks to a dismal attempt at playing The Adventures of Cookie and Cream (PS2), which ended in a massive fight that we can still recall to this day. But, time heals all wounds (so they say), and eventually we came back around to the notion of playing games together, mostly through forgiving MMOs that didn’t specifically require cooperation in the Cookie and Cream sense.
Fast-forward a little to March 2021, and out comes a game called It Takes Two, a co-op adventure/platform game from Hazelight Studios, the same folks who made another popular co-op game, A Way Out. My husband, a much more patient soul than I, had been very interested in having us try A Way Out. I was fully reluctant because Cookie and Cream had cut deep, and I had no interest in playing anything that I thought might recall its memory. It Takes Two, however, seemed like a mildly different beast. Its Pixar-like animation and familiar-looking 3D platforming style appeared more like something I could wrap my head and nerves around. And so, after a good bit of nudging from my significant other, we jumped into It takes Two and went off on quite the adventure.
*Minor spoilers ahead*
It Takes Two follows the story of May and Cody, a couple on the verge of divorce. After telling their daughter Rose of their plans, Rose hides away in the family’s shed with dolls she had made of her parents and a “Book of Love” she had found at school. She imagines bringing her parents back together, with the “help” of the book, and a bit of tearful magic then ensues whereby both May and Cody are “transported” into Rose’s dolls. (In real life, they each fall asleep, and Rose is unable to wake them.) While Rose goes about with life, meanwhile scheming to solve May and Cody’s relationship problems, May and Cody are made to work together, with the help of one Dr. Hakim, the “Book of Love” itself, to get back to their real-life bodies. Together they must traverse a host of creatively designed regions that mimic enlarged and fantastical versions of their own world (think: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids meets Banjo-Kazooie, sort of).
Set up almost entirely in vertical split-screen, It Takes Two’s gameplay is deceivingly simple, and it absolutely requires two people, with one person controlling May while the other controls Cody. The game works as a classic 3D platformer with lots of running, jumping, sliding, swimming, and gliding. A various points within each area, the game moves away from tradition by adding elements that require significant cooperation. Always included among them are boss battles, but along the way there are plenty of smaller moments where May and Cody must help each other to progress by manipulating things in the environments and figuring out puzzles.
After progressing past the first area of the game, Dr. Hakim and other characters (and is there ever a strangely delightful collection of NPCs in this game!) will provide to May and Cody different tools, and it’s up to them (the players) to decide how to use them. In some cases, the tools allow the couple to progress along the same path; and in others, the two have to take separate paths while helping each other reach a common goal. These tools range from a hammer and a nail, to a gun that shoots wax and flamethrower, to two halves of a magnet. The tools only exist in their respective areas, and once May and Cody beat an area’s boss, the tools they were using are whisked away and a new set is granted in the next stage.
I’ve played a lot of 2D and 3D platformers in my time, but never one as highly imaginative and brilliantly inspired as It Takes Two. Looking back on its initial reviews, it was critically praised, won several awards last year, and is up for more this year. I can’t argue at all with what the game is – it’s an astounding achievement as far as platforming games and co-op games go. As I said in this post’s title, it’s an incredible game, one worthy of all the recognition it has received and then some. The story was sincere and heartfelt, the voice acting was fantastic, the gameplay was solid, and I loved the look and feel of all the environments inside and out. So, as I also said in the title, why don’t I ever want to play it again?
Because, for me, being a reliable platforming partner was utterly exhausting.
Here’s the thing. I love games like what It Takes Two presented, but…it always, always, always takes time for me to master them. Read: I die a lot in any platform game anywhere. And usually, it’s fine, because there’s no one there waiting for me to stop dying. With It Takes Two – throughout I played as May while my husband took on Cody — I found myself in far too many frustrating instances where I simply had trouble making May do what needed to be done. Sometimes it was a matter of not being able to jump platforms in time or constantly misjudging targets or getting lost in trying to figure out the next objective. The gripe here is purely personal, as I have and always will identify as an impatient gamer. I’m fine with “try, try again” when it’s just me; but when another person is waiting in the wings for me to stop trying and start doing, it frazzles my nerves to no end.
I did overcome my own qualms enough to get through It Takes Two with my better half, but it was not without more than a few grumpy moments. Therefore, I will pass wholeheartedly on a replay. And yet, despite my little tale of woe, It Takes Two is one of the most thoughtfully produced and charismatic games I’ve ever played. If there’s someone in your life with whom you like to play games and trust enough to serve as a co-op partner, playing It Takes Two is a no-brainer. Just do it, because there truly is plenty to love in this wonderful game.
Lede image taken from It Takes Two presskit (© Hazelight Studios, Electronic Arts)