Most 3D platformers are relics of a bygone era.
Although the genre once dominated gaming with titles like Jak and Daxter, Sly Cooper, and Banjo-Kazooie, their popularity began to wane with the seventh console generation as their respective developers matured to projects like Uncharted, Infamous, and Viva-Pinata.
There have been several notable attempts to resuscitate the genre with nostalgic games that either ape the classics or tap into an ineffable “Nintendo” feeling. Many 3D platformers made to revive the genre are critical darlings, but they fail to add anything new. EA Hazelight’s latest respects the genre’s roots while expanding its potential growth.
It Takes Two distinguishes itself by emphasizing fun and character individuality, providing both of the leads with enough meat to feel like full people. The story focuses on Cody and May, a couple planning to divorce. Their daughter, Rose, doesn’t take the looming separation well. Rose secretly obtains a relationship self-help book for her parents. Like all self-help books, this one includes a sprinkle of magic, which transforms the couple into a pair of felt dolls. Their transformation sets the scene for the co-op adventure.
Characters define gameplay
As the game begins, you and your companion choose to play as either Cody or May. Each of you will now occupy half the screen. Even if you’re online, It Takes Two is permanently in split-screen mode. This allows an old-school intimacy with the other player — you can literally see the world through their eyes at any given moment. While it might appear like a silly gimmick, it allows you to connect with your co-op partner.
As three-inch dolls, they can now explore various parts of the house as if they were tiny worlds. Though rather simple, this setup facilitates a surprisingly in-depth character study. Cody and May’s abode is filled with personal items, which reveal a great deal about the different roles they play in their relationship. That dynamic shapes the gameplay in wonderful and unexpected ways.
Since Cody and May have distinct personalities, they receive different power-ups. Each level typically revolves around a new mechanic that depends on working with your partner. The mechanic manifests differently depending on if you’re playing as Cody or May.
Cody is often gifted with more passive and defensive mechanics, while May’s abilities focus on aggression and close combat. In one level, Cody receives a cymbal that doubles as a shield while May wields the destructive power of her voice. By coding these abilities to their personalities, It Takes Two respects that Cody and May are different people, not just cosmetic skins that have little impact on the overall gameplay experience. It Takes Two gives you a compelling incentive to try out each character.
No one gets saddled with all the lame stuff while your partner gets the cool things. In other platformers, co-op often feels tacked-on. Super Mario Galaxy features a co-op mode where one player enjoys the full experience of hopping around as the titular Italian plumber, while the other person is a literal cursor designed to clean up his leftovers.
It Takes Two isn’t without sections where one player has to trudge through a boring segment, but it wisely shares the burden between players. This balance keeps the gameplay compelling while underscoring the importance of the couple’s relationship. One player might act as a support in one segment while developing a god complex in another.
A wild world
It helps that every level in It Takes Two is unique. You and your partner won’t just be hopping your way to the finish line. As the mechanics change between levels, so does the traversal design. One level might be a normal platformer, while the next could be a Diablo-style dungeon crawler, which is then followed by this year's best Honey, I Shrunk the Kids remake. One of the best things about It Takes Two is that you have no idea what to expect next.
As you explore the game’s world, you’ll encounter unique supporting cast members with the same imaginative energy innate to Pixar films. Who doesn't remember leaving Toy Story then talking to your toys for an hour, hoping they were listening? It Takes Two throws that same energy onto Cody and May’s household objects as you explore their shared garden or a souvenir snow globe from a long-ago trip.
To It Takes Two’s credit, there are none of the collect-a-thon shenanigans that have become commonplace in modern platformers. The lost treasures are replaced with minigames and a fun interactable world that activates your childlike joy. There will always be something to distract you from the main game, whether it’s short games of chess or an interactable Dust Destroyer can that turns into a firework when shot.
While these mini-game sections are charming and the minigames were fun, they do reveal It Takes Two’s weak points. It zooms past supporting cast members as quickly as they’re introduced, which made certain sections jarring. While supporting characters are vibrant, they’re ultimately just dressing to the It Takes Two salad, leaving you to ponder what could’ve been. The ending, which comes after a few too many fakeouts, leaves a similarly underwhelming “what if” impression.
If you like platformers or co-op games then you need to try It Takes Two. The world is brimming with life and ideas. There’s something fun to find at every single corner. Just as your interest might be waning in a mechanic, It Takes Two pulls the rug from under you, providing something entirely new to play with. Some slight story stumbles aside, you and your co-op partner are in for a magical experience.
It Takes Two is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its government and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.)