I’m conflicted about It Takes Two, the new game from Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and A Way Out studio Hazelight. On one hand, it’s an adorable platformer featuring intuitive spatial puzzles and super-sized domestic environments, with a vibe reminiscent of Honey I Shrunk the Kids or The Pagemaster. It’s a split-screen co-op adventure, and I’ve had a lot of fun playing it online with my colleague Devindra Hardawar.
On the other hand, It Takes Two is uncomfortably cheesy. It tells a heavy-handed story about two parents breaking the news of their divorce to their young daughter — but that’s not the uneasy part. The first few levels of It Takes Two are littered with shallow platitudes about fixing a toxic relationship for the sake of maintaining a nuclear family, and if that weren’t distressing enough, these ideas are presented by a talking Book of Love with a cartoon face and an outrageous Spanish accent. The result is a perverse combination of Blink-182’s “Stay Together for the Kids” and Puss in Boots, surrounded by an otherwise entertaining platforming world.
It Takes Two begins with a husband and wife arguing in their front yard, and as they mention the word “divorce,” the scene pans to their daughter watching sadly from the upstairs window. She’s holding two handmade dolls of her parents, and she makes them apologize to each other and kiss. Later, the daughter opens a literal Book of Love and says out loud to the figurines, “Look, it says here love is work, see? You have to work on it. You can’t just give up.” She begins to cry and her tears magically trap her parents inside the dolls. They wake up in miniature form and have to work together to find their way back to their bodies.
The Book of Love acts as the couple’s guide when they’re doll-sized, brandishing pages that read things like, “Fix your relationship” and “Collaboration” to introduce new levels. At one point, he gestures toward the couple’s overgrown greenhouse and says with self-righteous excitement, “That is what happens when you abandon your passion.”
After that line in my notes, I wrote, “wow yikes ugh.” This remains an accurate and comprehensive summary of my feelings regarding the narrative heart of It Takes Two. However, in terms of gameplay, it gets a lot of things right.
It Takes Two is a two-player, co-op-only adventure, and it can be played locally or online. In either format it’s split-screen, and this serves the experience well, allowing players to explore individually without worrying about stretching the display to contain both avatars. In doll size, the world is massive and packed with puzzles that feel both clever and intuitive, requiring constant communication between players. Even just wandering around the environments is entertaining, as the characters handle well and they’re truly adorable, especially when running. Hazelight specializes in creating cooperative experiences, and It Takes Two is a fantastic showcase of the studio’s expertise with this format.
In a media presentation for It Takes Two, creator Josef Fares drove home the message that this game is a romantic comedy, which doesn’t bode well for the cheese-intolerant among us. All signs point to It Takes Two ending with the parents rekindling their love for one another, rejoining their full-size bodies and telling their daughter they’re staying together. I imagine a final scene showing the daughter smiling at her dolls and putting them away for good, saying she doesn’t need them any longer. Wink.
If that’s the case, I won’t play It Takes Two all the way through, no matter how enjoyable the actual mechanics are. Such a naive, rose-tinted approach to relationships and parenthood is an incredible turn-off for me, even in a comedy format. Effectively, if I play It Takes Two once it hits consoles and PC on March 26th, I’ll be rooting for the main characters to get divorced. Or, if they do stay together, the least they can do is burn that damn book.