Review: It Takes Two

There are times when we come to have an experience that we weren’t expecting to have but find that it was something that we needed. It Takes Two is a game that I didn’t think I needed until I saw the announcement trailer drop back in late 2020. Unlike most video game trailers that appear to be cinematic but bare bones, It Takes Two also feels like it could also be a movie, but with a fresh Pixar-like imagination that I don’t see too often in trailers anymore. The first time I watched it, I knew this was a game I needed to keep my eyes on.

Fast-forward a few months later to the 2021 Game Awards, where it was nominated for several accolades. It ended up earning three: Best Multiplayer GameBest Family Game, and the coveted Game of the Year award. I waited with bated breath as the awards were announced and handed out, silently hoping that It Takes Two would have a chance of beating the rest to be named Game of the Year. Even though I hadn’t played the game myself yet, something about that trailer still stood out to me compared to its competitors. I was overjoyed and remember cheering at home with the roaring crowd as the creator, Josef Fares, ran up to accept his award and present his speech as the winner. I know this was a project that he especially must have felt proud of conceiving and building from the ground up.

That Christmas, I received a copy of It Takes Two and would finally be able to play and experience it myself. As It Takes Two is designed to be a couch co-op game, my brother volunteered to be my partner on this anticipated journey with me. We both didn’t know what to expect but gleaning from the reviews and the fact that it had won Game of the Year, we felt that those expectations were pretty high. So, what was playing It Takes Two like, and was it worth all of the hype?

This Is a Game About Collaboration

It Takes Two is an innovative co-op game; I don’t think there are many multiplayer games out there where you and the person next to you are required to work together to advance to the next level. There are multiplayer games where you can sit together with your friends, to be sure, but they are often competitive in nature (Smash Bros. comes to mind here). It Takes Two reminds me of the many team-building activities I’ve done before both at school and at work. You have to learn quickly to rely on your partner to not only observe your surroundings and solve the next puzzle to advance, but also on their unique tools and capabilities that you won’t have yourself.

If you’re wondering if this is a good game to play with someone unfamiliar with gaming, I would answer with a resounding: Yes! The hook of the story, which I’ll discuss more in a moment, is about an estranged husband and wife who wake up to find themselves turned into a clay statue and wooden doll, respectively. Understanding that they must be under some sort of spell, they need to work together to find a way to return to their human bodies, while their anxious daughter tries to mend their relationship in her own way.

Even if you’re someone who doesn’t play video games regularly, that idea of struggle or seeing a loved one struggling in a relationship (like a parent) is something that hits home to many of us. Once the story hooks you and you actually begin playing the game, you’ll be amazed by how simple the game designers made the gameplay mechanics. This simplicity, which forces you to rely on your partner to progress, is only a small part of what makes It Takes Two stand out against other multiplayer games.

There are seven different levels in the story, all taking place in and around Cody and May’s house and garden. What surprised and excited me as we gradually entered each level is that this game keeps you on your toes – your tools will change, the gameplay mechanics will change, and the environments will change. Nothing is exactly the same as you move to point A to point B.

For instance, in the Tool Shed level, May is equipped with a nail and Cody with a magnet. You have to use both in order to move to your next destination, defeat the final boss, and move on to the next level…where you will lose the nail and magnet and obtain new tools and obstacles to overcome. I really loved how dynamic this gameplay and environment segregation was. At no point in the game did I ever feel bored because the gameplay was never stagnant enough to lose my interest.

Boss battles are also challenging but fun; there is the chance you will often die in the midst of these challenges, but when you finally do overcome them, it genuinely feels like a great reward that you earned. Just as the levels are creative and stand out from one another, the boss battles show ingenuity and require quick reactions on the part of the players. One boss battle may take the form of a Mortal Kombat-style melee fight, another is a high-seas stake where you are aiming to destroy the boss. I really love how these boss levels kept my attention as I worked with my brother on overcoming them and moving on to the next portion of the level.

There are also minigames present in the game, which are definitely worth talking about as there are 25 of them for you to find. It is possible that you may not be able to find them all in your first playthrough, and that’s okay. If you and your gaming partner just feel like playing one in particular, such as the chess minigame that my brother and I favor, you can select that game from the main menu to play for your enjoyment, instead of trekking to find it within the level. Not all of the minigames will probably be your cup of tea, and they certainly are not pivotal to completing the game. If you are looking for more things to enjoy during your playthrough, however, these minigames can be an enjoyable addition to an already delightful game.

The soundtrack, skillfully composed by Gustaf Grefberg and Kristofer Eng, does a masterful job of adding the element needed to help bring the game alive for the players. I was surprised at how certain segments of the score would uplift me, make me feel as though I were a pirate, or even reflective at times. The score hits all of the right notes, pun intended.

Story and Spiritual Takeaways

It Takes Two stars May and Cody, an estranged husband and wife with a young daughter named Rose. It’s clear that May and Cody’s relationship is on the rocks, and they can barely make eye contact with one another, let alone speak with each other. Rose innocently role-plays her dolls and wishes that her parents would get along again, pulling a book about relationships she had found and hoping that what it pertains will be the remedy that they need.

May and Cody wake up in the tool shed in the form of the dolls Rose was playing with. The book Rose has comes to life, introducing itself as Dr. Hakim, who is a relationship therapist expert. Dr. Hakim tells the couple that in order to become human again, they must work together and fix their relationship. Cody and May want only to return to their human bodies and are willing to do anything it takes to do just that…except rely on each other. That’s a short synopsis of what to expect when you’re first starting out in the game.

The story really is a realistic and healthy view of what relationships can consist of, both good and bad. The most obvious one present has May and Cody barely tolerating one another and getting along, even for the sake of their daughter. They bicker and nitpick every little thing about one another, and you begin to wonder early on if they ever loved one another. Gradually, the story reveals that both husband and wife possess deep dreams and desires that they assume the other doesn’t care about.

Cody, for instance, is passionate about his garden in their backyard, while May has neglected her love of singing to work as the breadwinner of the family and has no time for fun. This understanding of one another is seen in the gameplay as well; May and Cody start out in the game by name-calling and mocking one another, even as they are forced to work together. By the game’s conclusion, they are verbally supportive of one another and the mocking dialogue all but disappears.

It’s refreshing to see a story, and a game no less, that focuses on the elements of having a successful relationship with someone is a lot of work. We see why May and Cody’s relationship is barely nonexistent at the beginning of the story, and what changes they need to make from their mindset and words to help fix their communication skills with one another and work as a team in order to be successful. This is true of any relationship we have in life, romantic or otherwise.

One slight con of the game that I feel warrants to mention here is that this game is not entirely family friendly. It is rated T for Teen, and I think that particular rating is accurate of its content. May and Cody don’t necessarily have the cleanest language, and there are some mild expletives that are sprinkled throughout the game. It took me out of the game a bit at times, especially since the aesthetic we’re given is very cartoony, almost as if the entire game were conceived through the mind of a child. Baring that in mind, if you’re able to overlook that issue, the game would still otherwise be a great one to share with your loved ones, especially if you’re looking to play a game together with a loved one.

As a Christian, the key focus on relationships was what really helped this game stand out in my mind compared to other games I’ve played in the past with a multiplayer aspect. Teamwork and collaboration are actions that are a vital part of our careers and education growing up but can be difficult to implement when it comes to our loved ones and families. Often for reasons of pride, we tend to close ourselves off to them, thinking they have no time for us or don’t care about our ideas and passions.

Relationships take work to build, and those relationships with our loved ones are the most rewarding that we can possess when we take the time and effort to invest in them. It Takes Two really helped me take the time to think about what I wanted in my own relationships, and what those would look like in both healthy and unhealthy manners.

Final Thoughts

I was blown away while playing It Takes Two with my brother. It was easily the most fun we both had had playing a video game in a long time. We both commented on the creativity present in the environments and level design, and how versatile the gameplay mechanics were. It’s definitely a game we can see ourselves playing together over again in the future and find that we still enjoy it just as much as we did the first time.

I am overjoyed that I was able to play this game for myself after it had won the Game of the Year award. It is so clear that there was so much love and devotion towards the development of this game, and I hope more people will give this game a try and enjoy all that it has to offer. Its merits are well-deserved and there are already talks of adapting the game as a feature film. It’s clear that this game is a modern classic and will continue to enchant audiences well into the future, just as it did for my brother and me.

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