It Takes Two is almost impossible to describe because it's so many things in one. It's a puzzle-platformer, an emotional journey, and a story about two characters reconnecting in a way that feels satisfying and smart, despite some clunky dialogue.
The game goes out of its way to surprise and delight, both in terms of its narrative and in its fluid approach to moment-to-moment gameplay, and cements Hazelight Studios as masters of co-op storytelling.
You Plus Me, Me Plus You
The scaled-down theme extends to minigames, too
At the core of It Takes Two are its characters. Cody and May, separated parents, do their best to maintain their fractured relationship, or what's left of it, for their daughter. It's clear early on that no blame is attached to either side, as It Takes Two takes a more mature approach to separation than other titles have done in the past.
There's no inciting incident - no sudden heartbreak. These are two people that have drifted further from each other and aren't able to make amends, and there's no guarantee that they will, making the entire journey feel more nuanced than the kind of standard-fare of other romantic comedies in other media.
Of course, the Cody and May we meet early on aren't the ones we spend most of our time with. Instead, both are transformed into dolls by a magic book, Dr Hakim.
In my fourteen hours of playtime, I grew to love these dolls and Dr Hakim. Some occasional overly-expository dialogue is undercut by genuine humour and emotion in ways that feel delightful to watch play out.
Trust A Talking Book To Have Novel Ideas
The game's core trio have great chemistry
Part of what makes It Takes Two so hard to describe (and equally difficult to put down) is in the way it rolls through gaming genres and tropes like a Katamari, picking up mechanics and discarding them once they've served their purpose.
While that may sound a little utilitarian, in practice it makes every moment feel that little more special.
Waking up in a workshed, now shrunk to just a few inches in size, Cody and May's adventure starts out feeling like a fairly standard 3D platformer. They jump, double jump, move obstacles, and more, before needing to rely on co-op puzzle-solving using a hammer and a nail to progress.
Then there's the much-previewed shooter section, as our compact couple trade jumping for shooting in the middle of a war between Squirrels and Wasps. There are animal-riding sections, snowboarding, isometric dungeons to crawl, and dozens more.
It's not just variety for the sake of variety, either. These individual vignettes all fit within aspects of May and Cody's everyday lives, and each victory feels like rebuilding a piece of an emotional bridge.
By the time I and my co-op partner rolled credits, we each could count half a dozen highlights, and both lists were entirely different, with choices based on gameplay as well as how sections fit within the overarching plot.
Some of these moments were even off the beaten path, as Hazelight expands on the idea of exploration in its last title, A Way Out. There's just so much to see and do in every stage, including competitive minigames.
It's Dangerous To Go Alone
Some of the game's environments are gorgeous to look at, and full of secrets
It's also worth pointing out that solo players need not apply. While the entire game changes when switching between both characters, you'll still need another player to play with.
Thankfully, while the game is playable in split-screen, it's also compatible with online play, and the best part is that you can issue a friend pass to ensure you have someone else to jump in with (although, there's no cross-play).
After the enjoyable, but often intense, A Way Out, It Takes Two is a confident next step for Hazelight Studios. Varied and ambitious in scope, it's the culmination of what Josef Fares began with Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons back in 2013, and in these bizarre times it's a perfect antidote to a world shorn of physical connection.
Don't be fooled by the impermanence of its mechanics - the story and characters will stay with you long after you and your friend log off, and you may just feel a little closer, too.
Review code provided by the publisher
Reviewed on Xbox Series X