Review: It Takes Two Is the Best Platformer in Years

While video games make boatloads of money, they also can be repetitive in their design, aesthetic, and mechanics. That isn't the case with Hazelight Studios' most recent co-op game, It Takes Two. This platformer is ambitious, inventive, and genuinely surprising in more ways than one. Above all else, Hazelight took risks with this game and even if they didn't all pay off (most did), the idea of doing something new and fresh in the video game industry is respectable. With all that in mind, it's easy to see why It Takes Two is the best platformer in years.

It Takes Two Is the Best Platformer in Years

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Video games are iterative. Since they're so expensive to make, publishers need to be assured they'll make their money back. That's why you see yearly Call of Duty games that more or less play the same with each entry. The same goes for consumers. Games are expensive and time-consuming to play, so consumers will often buy and play what they know they'll like. That's why It Takes Two feels so refreshing.

It has so many ideas that feel new — or at least — are not overdone, and it stands out. One of its most prominent features is that it's only playable cooperatively. That's right, just like A Way Out, the studio's previous project, It Takes Two must be played with a friend. The nice thing is that if one person owns the game, they can invite another player via the Friend Pass, which is unlocked for free. So if two people want to play, only one copy is needed. That business model is just one of the examples of the risk taken by Hazelight and publisher EA. It's a consumer-friendly practice, but one that likely will impact sales. But that doesn't seem to matter, as the developer just wants as many people to experience this as possible.

It Takes Two is about a divorcing couple Cody and May, who somehow get magically turned into dolls. Their goal is to get back to their young daughter, Rose, to make sure she's okay while working on their relationship, and to turn back to their human form. All the while, an anthropomorphic book named Dr. Hakim challenges them to work on their relationship by introducing obstacles to overcome together. It's a strong message that manages to stick the landing at the end (though we won't spoil that here). Dr. Hakim is seemingly pushing them to get back together, which — at the time — didn't sit well with me. Some parents are healthier apart, so the notion of forcing a partnership to happen seemed odd. But at the end of the game, you realize what Dr. Hakim was doing all along and it's a positive message about co-parenting.

It Takes Two Is the Best Platformer in Years

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Aside from its important message, It Takes Two is funny, well-written in most cases, and absolutely gut-wrenching in others. There were occasions when I'd laugh out loud, scream, then get teary-eyed, all within a few minutes. It's an emotional game that covers a heavy topic, though I'm glad the overarching presentation is comedic — making the subject matter easier to digest.

Over the course of the game, Cody and May, learn to work together while improving upon many of their flaws as parents and partners. As you get further into the game, the two become nicer to one another, which is rewarding to see unfold. Though, it doesn't change the fact that they seem like pretty horrible parents overall. There are many times throughout the game when they act out of selfishness, not out of the best interest of their daughter, which made it hard to root for them.

The driving force behind wanting to see them reach their goal was to make sure Rose had her parents back, not necessarily to see Cody and May turn back to human form. I would have liked to have felt badly for the parents, but mostly, their actions made them come across as selfish and unlikeable. They aren't totally evil or anything, but being turned into dolls seemed like a punishment for being such awful parents more than anything. Maybe that's the point.

It Takes Two Is the Best Platformer in Years

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On top of the thoughtful story is some of the most superb gameplay in a platformer ever. Most of the puzzles are designed around having two players, which bolsters the overarching idea of the game in a smart way. For instance, one character might need to control platforms for the other to jump on, and there may be an element of timing that requires strict communication — hence the name It Takes Two.

These gameplay elements are not only satisfying in and of themselves, but serve the story, which is rare to see. So often, gameplay tropes are there just because, but in this game, they have a story purpose, as well. Communication is key in relationships and that mantra is brought to the forefront when attempting to solve the game's many puzzles. There were so many instances when my co-op partner or I would have an “aha!” moment after figuring something out, which was oh-so satisfying because we had to work together to overcome the objective.

The other major component of It Takes Two is its gameplay variety. The main mechanic is, of course, platforming, but you'll be doing much more than that throughout your 9-10 hour playthrough. There are a few sections that require you to control a boat while maneuvering around deadly enemies and obstacles, other parts feel like a third-person shooter — there are stealth sections, a segment that requires you to fly planes, spacecrafts, and other aerial vehicles, and so much more — including a dungeon crawling part that basically plays like Diablo. Yes, seriously. It Takes Two pays homage to famous games that have come out before it, making it hard not to smile as you play.

Pretty much every 10 minutes or so, a new mechanic would be introduced, keeping things fresh. What's smart about this is that, more often than not, the different mechanics would make sense within the context of the story. Again, there are a lot of mechanics thrown into games because they feel like a requirement, but in It Takes Two, the gameplay is varied and somehow still tied to the story in a way that makes sense.

The levels themselves cover a wide array of environments, ranging from a fantastical shed (which doesn't sound interesting, but totally is), snowy mountains within a snow globe, a child's room full of toys, space, an enormous clocktower, a garden, and an underwater section. It was fascinating and surprising to see where we'd end up next throughout our journey. The interesting thing is that all of these areas are exaggerated locations based on the characters' real world.

For instance, the child's room full of toys is obviously Rose's bedroom. But the level itself is almost surreal in its design, which led me to question if it was in the parents' imagination or if it had morphed alongside Cody and May's transformation. Ultimately, it was unclear, but either way, I was in love with how everything was designed — both visually and mechanically.

It Takes Two Is the Best Platformer in Years

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There's so much that happens over the course of the game, from boss battles, interesting puzzles, surreal moments that are hard to distinguish from reality, and the overall evolution of Cody and May's relationship. Though, around the seven-hour mark, I felt like the story should be starting to wrap up, but there were still three hours left to go. That's one of the biggest criticisms I have for It Takes Two: It definitely feels too long. Discussing game length as a critic is different from discussing it as a consumer, since buyers want to ensure they get their money's worth, which is a fair point.

But each level in It Takes Two could have been trimmed down slightly to cut the overall story down from 10 hours to around 8-and-a-half, while still remaining effective and cohesive. Or perhaps the game could have included extra content that is unlocked after the end to bump up its value. It already sort of does that in a way, as each character plays a majorly different role, which incentives you to replay the game as the opposite protagonist. But perhaps extra optional levels or challenges could have been added to increase its value while still sticking to that eight-hour sweet spot.

It's certainly a minor gripe that shouldn't steer you away from playing, but is still something you should be aware of. It's a bit of a tall order to get two players to commit to playing through a game like this, since many of us have work and lives that require so much time. But at the same time, it's hard to imagine playing this game in any other way.

It Takes Two Is the Best Platformer in Years

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Games like It Takes Two don't come out very often. So when they do, it's important to celebrate them — to highlight the hard work done by their developers, and to prove to publishers that there is a market for quirky co-op platformers that tell a deep story. That isn't a knock against iterative games, but rather that there should be a place for both: experimental games and sequels that iterate on previous entries.

It's unfortunate that It Takes Two likely won't sell as well as it deserves to, but I'll shout from the rooftops that this is one of the best games in years, and certainly in the upper echelon of platformers that rivals the likes of Super Mario, Rayman, and Astro's Playroom. It tells a heartfelt story, has an absurd amount of gameplay variety, and is inventive and unique. And it deserves credit for all of those things.

It Takes Two

$40.00
9.5

The Best Platformer in Years

9.5/10

Pros

  • Absurd amount of gameplay variety
  • Smart puzzles
  • Funny writing
  • Strong message

Cons

  • A couple hours too long
  • Unlikeable protagonists
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Joseph loves Nintendo and horror games. When he's not writing about video games he can usually be found petting his cats and listening to some Progressive Metal. He thinks Meshuggah is tight.