Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime’s opening setup recall the now-classic PlayStation 2 title, Katamari Damacy. The love of the universe is being split apart and dispersed by an evil force. You and your giant, difficult-to-control round object (in this case, a spaceship) bring it all together. From an aesthetic perspective, both of these games are strikingly similar; they’re both full of colorful, sometime saccharine, charm. However, unlike the happy-go-lucky Katamari, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime hides a challenge behind its adorable space bunnies that fuels a surprisingly intense experience.
As the titular lovers (whose romantic relationship is actually of no importance), you must control a ship through a series of randomized levels collecting power-ups and freeing prisoners while battling enemies and gigantic bosses. You need a minimum of five prisoners to escape, but each level contains 10, leading to some interesting risk/reward decisions when your health is low and you almost have everyone.
Your ship is made up of a series of rooms, each containing important consoles for controlling your ship. You and a partner choose between controlling the steering wheel, a handful of turrets, a shield, or a rechargeable special weapon. Trading positions, running from gun to gun, manning the shield, and generally moving about the ship to steer through the levels and manage the onslaught of enemies is frantic and exciting. You feel as though you and your partner are genuinely working together to pilot a powerful leviathan through dangerous areas.
Moving through the ship feels smooth, like a typical quality platformer. Every part of the ship is fun to control, and they are all important to your survival. No station feels like the job nobody wants; shooting is always fun, driving is interesting, and moving the shield to block projectiles is crucial.
An assortment of upgrades can be added to nearly every console, giving you the opportunity to experiment with different types of weapons upgrades. Power-up gems can be attached to your engine to make the ship move faster or spit out small mines, make your turrets and shield stronger, or make your limited-use special weapon more formidable. The different types of gems and the option to attach multiple types to each console offers lots of opportunity to figure out what works best for you, and I enjoyed experimenting and finding my favorites.
A lot is happening on the ship at any time, and everything needs attention, creating an intense experience. This sense of danger juxtaposed with the game’s cuteness only adds to the charm. I found myself shouting at the screen after narrowly failing to beat a tough boss, only to be charmed as my adorable avatar and his partner waved in defeat, floating in the blackness of space amidst the ruin of their destroyed ship.
You can do all this with a real human being, or you can play with an A.I. animal whose only limitation is an inability to steer the ship. Lovers is designed to be a co-op game, but I also found the experience of playing with the computer to be rewarding. On a few occasions near the end of the game, the A.I. had some difficulty acting as I expected, but overall I have no problem recommending this approach if you can’t find a couch co-op partner (since no option for online play is available).
The levels are randomized, so all of your frequent deaths lead to a new level layout. Though you hold on to your upgrades (which are necessary as you make your way to each boss), the promise of a new level each time I played didn’t add value. If anything, the need to learn a new layout hurt my interest in going back to old levels. Rewards are in place for collecting all the prisoners of each level with new ships and avatars, but I didn’t find any of the ships to be more advantageous than my upgraded starter ship, and new avatars offer only a cosmetic change.
A few infrequent variations on the main type of level exist. Some make your ship stationary while enemies come to you, while another adds a timer but gives you the full level layout and all its prisoner locations before starting. I enjoyed these alternate approaches, and would have liked even more variation. They serve as slightly easier palate cleansers to the main levels, and always show up at the right time.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is hard, but in an intense way that makes you fear death with sweaty palms. It’s not frustrating – it’s a well-balanced challenge. Running from one end of the ship to the other to get that final shot in against the boss while your partner valiantly rotates the shield to block the incoming space icicles is intense, rewarding, and delivers a true sense of cooperative teamwork.