Video Games

The Game That Finally Lets You Live Your Fantasy of Being a Bickering Married Couple

Couples therapy becomes an absurd, cartoon-y adventure in It Takes Two.

A man (with green hair) and a woman (with blue hair and glasses) each sit on top of large frogs that are stationed at a taxi pen. They are in a large forest.
Hazelight/Electronic Arts

At one point during our playthrough of It Takes Two, a new cooperative (co-op) multiplayer adventure game starring a married couple on the cusp of divorce fighting their way back to their daughter, we came across a gaping chasm we needed to cross.

I was playing as May, who could swing across nails that my friend Dan, playing as May’s husband Cody, could throw into the walls enclosing us. I’d have to make the jump on blind faith, though, as the gap was too big to get past with just one nail to swing from—I’d have to jump and hang onto one, and pray that Dan would follow through by throwing a second nail to get me the rest of the way.

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“Can you get the timing right?” Dan asked, doubting my ability to make it past the cavernous, deadly space awaiting me.

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“Yeah, just throw them when I’m close,” I replied, before immediately falling to my death as I messed up an easy jump. I immediately felt guilty: “Oh shit, sorry, that’s on me,” I mumbled through the microphone.

I could hear him cackling on the other side of the call. “Yeah, let’s try that again,” he said, and for a second, we really did seem like a married couple in a passive-aggressive spat over something mundane. I rolled my eyes and geared myself up for another attempt.

These small moments become par for the course of It Takes Two. The game’s design and levels constantly emphasize the need for cooperation; in fact, it’s impossible to play the game without a partner, a unique element in our modern age of single-player games. As May and Cody—two characters with highly different skills and equipment—try to find their way back home to their daughter Rose after being shrunk and turned into dolls by a mysterious “Book Of Love,” the players must work together in increasingly challenging (and creative) ways.

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Both May and Cody operate with the same basic controls, but their paths through the game are vastly different. During one particularly harrowing segment, we were tasked with flying an airplane made out of Cody’s underpants to escape a jingoistic squirrel army after we refused to destroy their archnemesis bumblebee after fighting a gargantuan wasp robot. (There are also space baboons, angry vacuums, sentient binoculars, and evil toolboxes. It’s all very Coraline-esque.)

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As Squirrel Team Six barreled down on us, I manned the cockpit as Cody while Dan sat in the gunner’s turret as May, shooting down acorns and flying rodents. After several minutes, a squirrel trooper landed on top of our plane to attack May, and the game evolved into a pastiche of Street Fighter as she punched and kicked him away, complete with a K.O. finisher.

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That fight led into the climax of this particular sequence, as the bottom of the plane dropped out leaving Cody and May hanging onto the wing. The only way we could steer now was to physically move our bodies around to make one side of the plane heavier or lighter.

At the end of it all, we finally succeeded in crashing through an open window and returning to our house, one step closer to seeing our daughter again. At that moment, we really did feel like a set of parents returning home.

A man with green hair sits on a couch, back toward the camera, as he looks at a sentient Book with a mustache that is holding up a notepad that says “Therapy Session 2.”
The Book of Love is offering Cody and May some very … unique couples therapy. Hazelight/Electronic Arts
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As in the plane sequence, It Takes Two’s gameplay reflects and makes literal the difficulties of working through a disintegrating relationship, a kind of life-or-death couples therapy. (Some of these gameplay analogies are a bit on-the-nose; at one point, Cody gets a nail while May gets a hammer, to teach them that they belong together, or something like that.) There are levels that seem impossible to solve at first glance—but maybe Cody can shrink himself and open this door for May? Or maybe May can help Cody jump farther than normal by ground pounding at the exact moment he needs you to? When you’re confronted with a problem in It Takes Two, the answer is usually found in collaboration.

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Cody and May aren’t perfect, both in  animated doll-form  and as a human married couple. It turns out, for example, that Cody never fixed up the vacuum like May asked and just stuck it in the shed instead. May reveals that she doesn’t know what her daughter’s favorite toys are. They’ve both taken each other for granted. As the story unfolds, you get to actually step into their shoes and trace their near-breakup as it happened, and the trust-building gameplay becomes more and more clearly a metaphor for Cody and May’s relationship.

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While we both play video games all the time on our own, It Takes Two was Dan’s and my first attempt at playing cooperatively, and it didn’t always go smoothly. (It turns out I am very bad at explaining things without visual aids.) Over the course of the game, though, we started settling into the flow of the levels—eventually getting comfortable enough to start talking about other things, too, with the game and our fingers moving pretty much on autopilot. We traded ideas for other games we could play; how his exams were going; things we could do on the weekend. That ease played out on the screen, too. At one point, engrossed in chitchatting, I barely noticed that I had clipped through a wall, skipping a section of a level altogether. “Whoa,” I exclaimed, to laughter from Dan. “Speedrun strat.”

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After he and I cleared the chasm (which ended up being easier than expected), we arrived at the boss fight of the level: a ticked-off rusty toolbox that first tried to destroy us with falling nails, then a metal sweeper, then a rotary saw that sliced off huge chunks of the stage. In the battle’s final moments, the toolbox launched into a chaotic wave of stomping attacks with a giant shovel that neither one of us could figure out how to take advantage of. Cody could jump on the shovel, while May could ground pound a weak point, sending Cody flying into the air, but then what?

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It was Dan who figured it out first, and in-game, May had the epiphany at around the same time: “You’re supposed to hit the paint can!” the two echoed in near-unison. Oh!

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The next time I soared into the air, this time as Cody, I aimed the nail gun at a precarious-looking paint can above the toolbox. A lot of explosions followed, and soon enough, the toolbox was no more.

While Cody and May cried in exultation on the screen, we both leaned back in our chairs, spent. “Well, that was hard,” I breathed out through the mic. “Yeah,” he agreed, as if we had just lugged in a couch from Ikea together.

“Want to keep playing?” I asked.

“Sure,” he replied, and we dove into Cody and May’s story once more.

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