A few weeks ago I was taking a break and came to the living room to watch my partner blow up aliens on Gears of War with his friend. Instead, I found them watching a giant, stylized wasp nest. They were playing as two dolls of all things. That was my first introduction to the game It Takes Two. It’s a beautiful and engaging game that I wound up wanting to play myself.
NOTE! This review contains spoilers! If you care about those, turn away now.
It Takes Two is a game about divorce. It opens with a couple who have recently decided to get divorced arguing in the yard. Unknown to them, their child watches on, shocked about their plans. And it’s not hard to see why they’ve wound up there. One parent, Cody, is doing the work of a homemaker, while the other, May, is the sole earner. She works a lot of overtime to make ends meet, so she’s never there. All the while also working as the family manager, booking dentist appointments, keeping the schedule, etc. Meanwhile, Cody, who doesn’t seem to be doing anything, feels underappreciated. I sound way harsher than I mean to. Cody seems like he would be a ton of fun to hang around with. I just would not want to be married to him. And to be fair, neither does May. But that’s okay, because a wish from Rose, their child, sends them off on an adventure.
May and Cody get changed into dolls that Rose made. They start trying to figure out how to get out of this situation. On their way home, they encounter homicidal squirrels, a bumblebee masquerading as a wasp, sentient tools, dancing lightsticks, and all the toys they’ve ever bought their daughter. And also a supremely annoying magical book that gives May and Cody the steps they need to take to get home. And, of course, the steps to fix their broken relationship. Because that’s actually their way home, even if they don’t understand it at any point.
To start off, this game is hella fun to play. It’s essentially forced co-op in that you can’t get very far without the help of a partner. I played through with my romantic partner and it was so much fun. Basically, you can’t die. At worst, you’ll disintegrate and go back a few steps. This can get frustrating in a few spots, but mostly it’s great. I really liked the concepts for the various levels. The scenery is freaking gorgeous and the dolls are so cute. The levels themes are inventive and fun. The whole thing is just fun to play. As long as you can stop thinking about what’s actually happening.
And thus, we come to the story. The game ultimately ends with the two puppets kissing and it seems like it’s saying that everything is fixed now that they remember that they need to work together and love each other. And it’s a really nice thought. But none of their problems have actually been solved. They still don’t have enough money for May to work less, and it doesn’t seem like Cody is going to start working again either to give May some breathing room. There’s no acknowledgment that even though Cody is, ostensibly, a stay-at-home dad, May is still having to do two full-time jobs in order to actually keep the household running.
The book and the adventure remind them of why they fell in love, but don’t really change anything. Cody gets a push to actually start doing things, but those things don’t actually change May’s life in any way. May got a reminder of a hobby she loves. But she gave it up because she didn’t have time or energy for it. Because it takes energy to manage schedules and resources. The writers of this story just don’t seem to understand that. It’s implied that now that May knows Cody loves her, she’ll take more time with her family. But May still has only 24 hours a day, they don’t have more money to pay the bills, and the management role still takes up a lot of time and energy. I give them a year at most to get back to this same situation.
Did it take two?
I had a really good time playing It Takes Two. The gameplay is well designed, but not too difficult for even casual gamers to get into. The levels are beautiful and fun and there are so many fun little details sprinkled throughout that it kept my attention nicely. I really liked playing with my partner. But ultimately the story left me lukewarm. I wanted better. Ultimately, this is a really fun game, as long as you don’t think about it too much. 7/10 would probably play again. There’s also a whole other blog post in how the narrative treats Rose and what the narrative says about Rose’s situation, but this is not that post.