I almost turned it off. Really, after 10 minutes, I had had enough. A story about a girl’s divorced parents who are magically shrunken so they can go on an adventure together, and in that way find out their differences and get back together? Do me a favour. People separate and families move on. It is a normal part of life and should not be interpreted as anything other than. Should children play this and think their parents could have saved their relationship? Should divorced parents play it and feel bad? It’s a dangerous idea to play with, and I wish it would take two had not done so.
Besides, the story is told unbearably. Your daughter finds a book about love at school, and it manifests itself as an almighty, passionate Latin love guru, an over-the-top love therapist for shrunken mom and dad. All they ̵
However, there is also a lot about this game to love. Mechanically it is fantastic, and one of the best collaboration experiences I have had in many years. It seems like I just last week complained about the declining amount of local collaboration experiences, so here comes, a game you can only play with anyone else (and which gives you ‘Friend’s Pass’ to play online with someone for free). What this means is that the collaboration is not just superficial, it’s not something extra the game offers: it’s basic, and the whole experience is designed around it.
For example, take a level early. It’s a DIY themed level where you experience through a giant toolbox-inspired land. For this adventure, like every adventure in the game, you get a set of special toys. Mai, mum, throws the head of a claw hammer on her back and uses it to break things, as well as swing on nails that are stuck in the walls. Cody, the father, gets the opportunity to throw nails into the walls and then remember them as Thor does with the hammer. Cue puzzles with wood for Cody to throw nails at so May can swing at them, and platforms that need nailing after May find ways to hit them higher. The whole level is an infinite variation on this theme, overlapping and interlocking, so you have no choice but to talk and collaborate with the person you are playing with, the screen splits and then splits as it opens and floats around the puzzles at hand.
Each level follows the same idea, although there is a theme around a different thing, and there is a new set of toys to play with each time. And it’s exciting to get them. They are fun! On one level, May gets a kind of rocket launcher while Cody gets a sap gun, which sweeps at enemies and surfaces, and makes May’s explosions even bigger. Boom boom boom! They are intensely satisfying. On another level, May gets gravity boots while Cody gets an Ant-Man style grow and shrink belt. And at one point, she pings Cody around a pinball machine. On another level you can mess with time (I try hard not to ruin them). They are all very imaginative.
But they are not the only toys. The levels are filled with many other things to play with, things to bounce off, things to glide along, things to shoot yourself out of or even pilot and ride. This is not a game that likes you to stand still. It rejoices in movement, and the movement is wonderful. Not only can you sprint, double jump and cross in the middle of the air, you can also jump and hang walls as standard, and swing around on ropes, rails and bumblebees. And you have to do it all the time.
There are also larger toys to play with. My favorite is two-player, competitive games you can find in hooks and hooks around levels. These are games you play against the person you are playing with, like extra multiplayer injections to give you extra advantage, not that you need it. It’s a nibble-mole, shooting ranges, snail racing, tobogganing, swing jumping … There are dozens, and I challenge you to limit yourself to just one!
This is a game that constantly finds new ways to keep you entertained, sometimes to your detriment, but more often it’s a marvel to watch. The base game is a 3D platformer, but the levels can suddenly change to become something completely different instead. I’ve had endless runners, Diablo-like hack-and-slashers (complete with two character classes), side-on-platform games: it never gives up. Nor does the imagination for a set piece. I have had rides on humpback whales inside the trees, been on tree-lined walks through an impossibly large castle I apparently built for my daughter; and been in space. It’s a wild ride, just loosely related to reality, and I have “wowed” more during this adventure than I can remember.
What really makes all this work is how well it works on the Xbox Series S (the platform I played it on, in 1080p). For the most part, it’s smooth as silk, the action whipping floating together. It is only in some larger environments with particle effects, such as blizzard and smoke, that the frame rate drops slightly. But in general it is snappy and responsive, and brought to life with great charisma, color, animation and care.
But it exceeds its welcome. What I thought were just a few hours turned out to be about a dozen: more like five nights instead of two or three. It may seem strange to criticize it, but the game feels like it was finished long before. It feels like the other half was turned on to do it longer, to go to some other environments, which admittedly are beautiful, and the toys fun to use, but did they need to be there? Because with each new level my overall joy became thinner and thinner.
And into this growing fatigue, the love book pops up, and the story pops up again, and I wonder why I’m still playing. Okay, there’s a warmth in the story, and I do not disapprove of the idea of reviving love. The quarrelsome couple is even somewhat sympathetic towards the end. But if divorce is in any way a sensitive issue for you or your partner, then be careful.
That said, if you can swing the story into the background, and consider it a slightly poorly chosen set-up for an adventure, then there is a lot about It Takes Two to enjoy. This is a rare form of collaboration experience, with an energy and imagination and playfulness that sometimes competes with Nintendo. As a toy, it can be a joy, and it will create some moments of cooperation to remember.