Importantly, you must play It Takes Two with a second person, whether it’s someone who’s in the room with you or a friend playing online. So I was extremely appreciative when my partner, a person with a healthy relationship to entertainment media who generally avoids video games (with the notable exception of Untitled Goose Game), agreed to play with me. After borrowing a friend’s PlayStation 5, we set out to investigate whether it was, in fact, possible to make an engaging game about relationships.
After finishing It Takes Two, the answer is definitively “yes”…but maybe not this one.
On one hand, It Takes Two is effective in depicting and encouraging cooperation. In each level, May and Cody have distinct tools that need to be used in concert to achieve objectives. For example: In the first level, May has a hammer and Cody has a set of nails, while in the second level, Cody has a gun that shoots out sap, and May has…a rocket launcher. May can use her hammer to swing across Cody’s nails, while the rocket launcher can be used to ignite the sap in creative ways. Most of the game presents you with a series of puzzles in which the players need to use both of their abilities in concert, along with some well-timed jumping, in order to proceed. In doing so, It Takes Two gives a sort of quick survey of some of the most famous types of game: some levels resemble shooting games, others roleplaying games, and so on.
Since my girlfriend had no prior experience with this kind of game, I had to explain some of the basic grammar of video games: double jumps, dashing, and so on. After a bit of trial and error, she (and we) developed a taste for the problem-solving components of the game. Being presented with these challenges really does succeed at engendering the kind of communication the game is interested in. For most of the summer, my girlfriend and I have been pitted against the overwhelming power of a cruel, unforgiving enemy: the New York City apartment rental market. After months of looking for a decent apartment in a historically bad moment for it, there’s something nice and uncomplicated about having a shared goal that requires collaboration and has no real-world stakes.
On the other hand, It Takes Two has plenty of its own opportunities for frustration. Even though I’ve been playing video games for most of my life, I had never stopped to consider that the classic video game boss fight is an experience that is designed to be stressful and agitating, something that came as a surprise to my girlfriend, who understandably believed that video games were supposed to be “fun.” Enter the vacuum cleaner, a big, scary monster that yells a lot and shoots bombs at you. After several attempts at defeating it, our collective anxiety levels went through the roof as my girlfriend grew frustrated with my halting attempts to explain what we were supposed to do. We had to take a break, mute the TV, and deliberately walk through each step of the fight before continuing.
But there was a bigger conflict to come.
I love cooperative games, but I also love winning. So when I play a game with someone who has less fluency than me, I tend to engage in “quarterbacking,” meaning that I tell other players what to do in the interest of winning as quickly as possible. In between my slow, deliberate sessions of It Takes Two with my girlfriend, I breezed through a bunch of ITT with my roommate, who literally has to play video games for her job.
My extracurricular gameplay was partly an altruistic decision — the game lets you easily swap between completed chapters, and I was hoping that my girlfriend and I would be able to skip the boss fights. But I have to admit, it was fun to move through the game quickly, and to take on some of the goofier and more elaborate boss fights with a bit more freedom.
When my girlfriend and I started playing again, I knew the solutions to most of the puzzles, and was therefore much less fun as a partner. For a while, I would feign ignorance, “guessing” at strategies that I already knew would work. But instead of successfully streamlining the game experience, my selfish quarterbacking made everything both take longer and feel far less fun. Where It Takes Two thinks that the solution to relationship troubles is to pantomime talking about your feelings, I found that the best gameplay experience came from knowing the best time to communicate and the best time to shut up.
Knowing when to be quiet is an incredibly valuable skill, and it’s one I wish It Takes Two possessed. Because while the gameplay is often quite fun, the story can charitably be described as “wack,” “corny,” or “genuinely kind of bonkers.” In theory, you’re supposed to be following May and Cody on a sweet, endearing journey as they relearn working together as a team and (spoiler) eventually reconcile. In practice, the game presents the couple as incredibly selfish people who absolutely should get a divorce, and who should, at the very least, seriously rethink their approach to parenting.