Update: With It Takes Two arriving on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for console, PC and the cloud this Thursday, November 5th, we're taking the opportunity to republish this review so you can see what all the hype is about!
Original review: When we first embarked upon It Takes Two's ten-hour journey, we knew it'd be good. After all, the previous game from Josef Fares' Hazelight Studios - the prison-break co-op adventure A Way Out - was a thrilling two-player experience packed with variety, and an unlikely hit for EA back in early 2018. If you thought that game was creative though, you haven't seen anything yet. It Takes Two is undoubtedly one of the most inventive co-op platformers in Xbox history, and an absolute blast from start to finish.
The story of the game is centred around a divorcing couple called Cody and May and their daughter Rose. When Rose is informed that the two are splitting up, she retreats to her bedroom and cries onto a couple of dolls that resemble her parents, which transforms them into the two dolls via a magic spell. Their quest is to figure out how to get back to their human bodies while guided by a Book of Love called Dr. Hakim, which tries to encourage them to use "co-lla-bo-ration!" and rediscover the joys of their relationship in order to progress.
We'll touch a bit more on the story later, but for now, let's focus on the biggest highlight - the gameplay. Like A Way Out, It Takes Two primarily adopts a split-screen approach in which teamwork is a requirement, and you can always see what the other person is doing. You progress through various levels (although they're not called as such) in which you're both given constantly changing skills and powers - such as one person being able to wield a hammer while the other person throws nails like a dart - and you're required to use these skills in innovative ways to solve creative puzzles.
In general, the action is best described as a 3D platformer, but this doesn't paint the full picture as the activities change so often. From scene-to-scene, you could be (spoilers!) bouncing on frogs, skating down ice, engaging in third-person combat with makeshift weapons, creating literal music with virtual samplers, reversing time, playing a freakin' fully-fledged dungeon crawler, and much, much more. That's the genius of It Takes Two - you're never stuck doing the same thing for very long, and somehow, it never manages to run out of ideas.
It's also the type of game that really encourages exploration. In fact, my fiancée (a relative non-gamer) never usually cares to go exploring in games, but spent extra time trying to find every hidden secret in It Takes Two. You're given these big, activity-filled open world sections to explore, such as giant ice villages and magic toy castles, complete with loads of characters and toys to interact with (as well as tons of two-player minigames from slotcars to old-school videogames), and every time you find something new, the excitement just makes you feel like a big kid. It's clear to see how much detail has been put into everything, and the feeling is best described as "magical" at its best.
The story sets up all of these gameplay elements really well, but this is also where my partner and I had some differing opinions. She really liked and appreciated how the plot progressed pretty much from start-to-finish, and while I also enjoyed the story it told and the well-intentioned message behind it, I felt the execution was a little lop-sided. It takes a long time for the characters to achieve much depth to them (although they do get there), the game really tries to be funny but it very rarely is, and the so-so dialogue and voice acting feels aimed at adults in some ways (with a minor use of swearing and one somewhat disturbing scene), and at very young kids in others, with the characters really exaggerating excitement to the point of feeling forced at times.
Of course, that does mean It Takes Two appeals to multiple audiences, and kids will undoubtedly adore the unbridled creativity and magical worlds that can be interacted with. However, it's worth noting that the game definitely requires at least some knowledge of how to play platformers, with certain sections requiring some tricky manoeuvres and clever puzzle solving. You will find yourself getting stuck now and again in It Takes Two, but every puzzle has a creative and fair solution, and the game is really generous at dishing out checkpoints to keep you moving.
It Takes Two is an absolute delight. The consistently creative gameplay is on par with, if not better than any co-op experience available on Xbox today, and if you have a partner in mind to play it with (don't forget they can access a free "Friend's Pass" if playing online), we think you'll have a real blast with it. We had such a great time playing through its highly memorable adventure, and you know what? We feel like the constant laughter, enjoyment and need for collaborative teamwork even reinvigorated our real life relationship a little bit. That's how good this game is.