Space: The final friend-tier
In a blaze of lasers and bunnies, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime throws you into a future filled with neon-pop visuals, a party-worthy electronic soundtrack, and a universe of clever mechanics that will keep you playing for hours.
Conceived at the Toronto Global Game Jam in 2012 by Asteroid Base, Spacetime throws back to the early days of gaming, shunning networked gameplay in favor of couch co-op. In the game, you and a friend or AI pet take on the minions of anti-love that spawned after the Ardor Reactor (a machine built to harness the energy of love and power the universe) explodes letting anti-love seep throughout the universe. The vividly colored monsters are corrupting the galaxies, and have caged up the cute creatures who inhabit them. It’s your job to stop the spread of anti-love, reassemble the reactor, and save as many LOVERS as possible.
When first playing Spacetime, the unapologetically positive aesthetic and storyline was deceptive. On the surface everything is simple, and it was easy to pick up and play. But as soon as I underestimated the game, my ship was destroyed like a tiny hot-pink Alderaan. You see, with the Ardor Reactor broken, space is not a friendly place.
The levels are randomly generated each time you load in, upping the replay value and creating a unique game experience every time. This also makes it impossible to learn all the locations of the trapped LOVERS and speed through a level; you have to explore and risk it all.
Luckily for you, though, your character came prepared with a badass ship. Each ship is divided into stations, which include several turrets (offensive weapons), a thruster (movement), a shield (defense), and a laser (think of this as your special attack). Characters must run station to station, climbing and sliding up and down ladders like a crazed fireman to operate each facet. You may have the most powerful gun on the top turret station, but unless your character has climbed all the way up to that station, it’s just going to silently sit there.
Stations on your ship can be upgraded with one or two gems, each having their own individual and fused powers. Finding which combinations work best for any given situation is a joy, and the first time using a new gem combination in a new station is always exciting. For instance, the pink Power Gems tend to simply and predictably upgrade the power of a station: turrets get an extra turret, shields get larger, and thrusters get a boost. But pair with a Beam Gem on your thruster and you get a flamethrower you can use to incinerate enemies behind you. Pair it with a metal gem on your turret, and you get a directional missile.
But it takes two to successfully navigate the galaxy. Spacetime is centered around teamwork, and there are pros and cons to playing with an AI pet or a friend couchside. The AI companion is a machine: they don’t make mistakes, they take the most efficient route to each station, and they are gods on the shield. Doppler, my AI dog, spent over 90% of his playtime on the shields, and it wasn’t until the final levels that I ever felt the need to move him to another station.
Playing with a friend is much different- human error can and will occur. When your ship explodes, it’s hard not to wish that you could trade in your meatbag of a human partner for Doppler. Friends, however, can take direction or warn you of impending doom. Putting all shields to front when making a suicide run for the warp is something that the AI pets can’t comprehend. Nor can they efficiently perform hit and runs on cages when enemies are around, or give you a monster high-five when you finally beat the white-dwarf level.
Soon enough, I was able to unlock ships in addition to the starter craft, the Gumball Zero, by rescuing trapped LOVERS. The Jelly Roll is the most interesting of the bunch; it completely reinvents the steering mechanic by making the entire vessel rotate, and only having three gun stations versus the regular four. It’s the most difficult of the ships to learn, but once I was able to master the spiraling controls, it was easily my favorite.
Unfortunately, the final tier of ships are one of the few disappointments in the game. Each is dedicated to a single gem type, and comes with all stations already installed with that style of gem. Even though you get a larger amount of initially upgraded stations, in a game that has so many unique and creative ideas, they feel like something thrown in last minute—especially with them being awarded only to people who spent the time to collect more LOVERS than required.
I was impressed at how many ideas were successfully implemented as I progressed through the game. Each campaign had a different feel and theme, and each level within revealed a mechanic needed to triumph. These tactics were intuitive to figure out, but in no way did that make the game any easier. In some levels I had to ricochet attacks off of sunspots to melt the icy armor of enemies; others had me eliminating enemies quickly as I orbited around a planet before they could respawn. And remember, this is all on top of running up and down ladders to take care of my thrusters and shields as well. Like a groovy space octopus, in Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime you have to be able to do it all at once.
By the last level I felt like a grizzled space captain. I’d been through some serious s**t, my mace game was on-point, and I wasn’t going to leave any LOVERS behind. Hilariously, all this intensity laid behind a neon pink ship, my character a soft, round alien in a bubble helm. When fellow EGM staffer Spencer “Dunkatron” Campbell and I took down the final boss, it was an accomplishment that felt like we truly won a war. Many high-fives were had.
Overall, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is addictive, stressful, fun, and intense all at once. By shaving geniusly fun ideas to the core and taking time to elevate the rest of the game, Asteroid Base has created a co-op experience that will either have you not returning your friend’s text messages, or buying them a round of beverages when you finally complete a level you’ve been stuck on. I hope for your sake, your friends are ready…
|Developer: Asteroid Base • Publisher: Asteroid Base • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 09.09.2015|
With a cosmic blend of minimalistic space strategy and humorous, frenzied, in-person action, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a neon-pop space shooter not to be missed.
|The Good||Beautiful visuals, an incredible soundtrack, clever mechanics, and a perfect amount of difficulty.|
|The Bad||The stop and go strategy essential to staying alive slows down the action, and rarely faces any counter until the final campaign.|
|The Ugly||The fish that shoot mucus-packed balls of other fish at you.|
|Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Asteroid Base for the benefit of this review.|