It Takes Two for Xbox review: Narrative shortcomings hold back a genuine co-op experience

The cutest toxic relationship you'll ever see.

It Takes Two Hero
(Image: © Windows Central)

Divorce is never easy for the parents or the children often caught in the crossfire. It's a messy process that requires forgiveness, time, and therapy, often simmering for years without a resolution. Josef Fares, the filmmaker-turned-director responsible for Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and A Way Out, attempts to wrestle with the complexity of that unique yet oh-so-common situation in the form of It Takes Two, a platformer propelled by his signature storytelling style and innovative co-op gameplay.

So how does It Takes Two fare? From a gameplay point of view, It Takes Two is full of variety, constantly changing and providing players with unique situations that make use of the immaculately designed levels in one of the better co-op experiences on the Xbox. However, the narrative is just not as compelling as previous entries in Hazelight Studios' catalog, and the unlikeable protagonists are never redeemed in a satisfying way.

It Takes Two for Xbox: Two hearts, one goal

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
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CategoryIt Takes Two
TitleIt Takes Two
PublisherElectronic Arts
GenreAction & Adventure
Xbox VersionXbox One and Xbox Series X|S
Game Size43.8 GB
Play Time10-14 hours
PlayersTwo players local and online
Xbox GamePassNo
Launch Price$40

In It Takes Two, players take on the roles of Cody and May, two estranged parents who have finally decided to end their marriage. When their daughter, Rose, catches wind of this, she inadvertently cast a spell on them, turning them into dolls. Now, led by an old book-turned-relationship coach Dr. Hakim, Cody and May must work together to figure out how to get back to their bodies while rediscovering their own passions and appreciation for one another.

On its surface, It Takes Two is a cooperative 3D platformer and a gorgeous one at that. Cody and May's idyllic countryside home transforms into an ever-changing dreamscape based around their damaged and neglected lives. Each of the game's nine levels are beautifully crafted and rich in detail, like a warped fairy tale that remains whimsical while skirting adult themes, much like a Don Bluth movie. From a debilitated greenhouse to the inside of a snow globe, innocuous household items morph into scenes that reflect the memories of the protagonists and force them to confront uncomfortable truths about their relationship.

The creativity on display here is on par with some of the best games in the genre.

No matter which character you play as, the story is the same but the experience is slightly different. Each level grants Cody and May a unique power that plays a huge part in that level's gameplay gimmick. Each level has different mechanics — one allows Cody to grow and shrink while another has May use the power of her voice — but to the game's credit, these gimmicks never hinder gameplay and are used in endlessly creative ways. Much like Hazelight's previous games, each puzzle has been made with co-op play in mind and must be completed by actively working with your partner.

Challenges were just difficult enough to feel rewarding, but never felt tough enough to impede progress. I was surprised by how little the game repeats itself, and the creativity on display here is on par with some of the best games in the genre.

Thanks to the fantasy setting, It Takes Two borrows gameplay cues from all over, in a way becoming an homage to a lot of genres. From Street Fighter to Overcooked and just about every third-person shooter ever, It Takes Two splashes shades of different genres throughout its adventure that will keep players on their toes. Luckily, the simple controls ensure that no matter how inexperienced you are with games, you'll be able to grasp each concept almost immediately.

Alone, together

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Like previous Hazelight projects, It Takes Two is a pure co-op game, which means that the game must be played with another person, either locally or online. The screen is shared by both players, which means you always have an eye on what your partner is doing, and part of the fun comes from helping one another solve a puzzle or watching in silent frustration as you both try to crack it. Working out the challenges in real-time will turn any pairing into an old couple, sharing both the frustrations and triumphs.

Working out the challenges in real-time will turn any pairing into an old couple, sharing both the frustrations and triumphs.

This is where It Takes Two shines. Cooperative platformers often are just levels to complete, sometimes not even requiring real input from the other player. But It Takes Two forces both players to collaborate, and this adds another layer of depth to the narrative as well the player's dynamic. Experienced players can't just rush through the level without a care in the world; you have to communicate with one another and solve challenges together. You're only as strong as your weakest link.

To make the barrier to entry lower, the game offers a Friend Pass, which allows players a chance to play the entire first level of the game. Upon completion, if players want to continue playing the full game, only one person will need to buy it.

It Takes Two for Xbox: Not every pair is meant to be

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

While the gameplay shines in It Takes Two, my biggest complaint lies with the two protagonists, Cody and May. They are complex characters, both fed up with their partner's shortcomings and lost without their own personal passions. They're petty and bitter, like a couple going through a divorce would be, but they're not even remotely good people or likable in the slightest. While the story tells me that I should care about their relationship, I found myself rolling my eyes at their constant bickering and their annoying quips.

Cody and May's unlikability reaches a crescendo halfway through the game, where they commit regicide against their daughter's favorite toy in a scene that's easily the most upsetting thing I've experienced this year. If you thought scenes from The Last of Us Part 2 were hard to stomach, you might find yourself wincing at the events that unfold.

I found myself rolling my eyes at their constant bickering and their annoying quips.

The relationship coach, Dr. Hakim, doesn't fare much better, and is played as a Spanish-speaking stereotype for laughs (despite Hakim being an Arabic name). Their daughter Rose comes across a little dead in the eyes, serving as just a goal and nothing more.

The story that's also surprisingly predictable. The game shows it hand at the start and doesn't offer any of the twists and turns found in A Way Out or Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. I found myself waiting for a twist that never came, and because I didn't care about the main characters or their relationship, the story dragged on longer than it needed to.

An uneven experience

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Unfortunately, the creativity found in the level design doesn't translate into the minigames scatted throughout the world. These are optional games you can play if you find them, and the game wants you to replay levels to find each one. While some can be challenging, most are just races or short competitions where you just mash the Y button until someone gives out. They're not terrible, but after coming across a few of them, I didn't really want to play them any more of them.

And while I love the level design, the platforming isn't quite as fine-tuned. My partner and I fell through platforms and lost momentum from jumps at seemingly random moments. At one point, my partner jumped to a place where they weren't supposed to be and got stuck in the ground, forcing us to restart the checkpoint. Sharing the screen with the other player also screws with depth perception, and it's easy to misjudge a jump because of it. Fortunately, checkpoints were frequent so little backtracking was required in the event of a mishap.

As I worked through It Takes Two's surprisingly long campaign, everything started to feel just a tad too long. It took too long for Cody and May to get with the program, despite the objective being plainly laid out at the start, levels stick around just a tad too long, and the gameplay, despite the variety, never truly excels at one genre. At the end of the day, It Takes Two suffers from too many ideas crammed into an uninteresting narrative.

It Takes Two for Xbox: Is it worth the therapy?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Relationships take work, and that's what this game feels like sometimes. While the co-op gameplay is endlessly clever and the game's aesthetic is charming, it's hard to keep going when I absolutely despised both Cody and May. Their story lets down the gameplay, and without a compelling narrative to keep players going forward, the entire game starts to feel like busywork. If you're looking for a unique multiplayer experience, It Takes Two may hold your attention for a weekend, but I can't help feeling that fans of Fares' previous storytelling might feel let down by his latest game.

Trauma is never as adorable as it is in It Takes Two, and I'd be able to forgive the gameplay shortcoming if the narrative was strong. Unfortunately, It Takes Two fails to live up to the legacy of the studio's previous projects and is ultimately a beautiful, and forgettable, experience.

Zackery Cuevas

Zackery Cuevas is a writer for Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. I like playing video games, talking about video games, writing about video games, and most importantly, complaining about video games. If you're cool, you can follow me on Twitter @Zackzackzackery.