Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
Developed by Asteroid Base
Published by Asteroid Base
Available on Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
I’m a sucker for a cooperative game, but too few truly demand cooperation. While it is always fun to play alongside a friend or loved one, it is rare to find a game where coordination, synchronization, and teamwork effectively matter. Whether tackling a Super Mario game with a friend, or replaying the Master Chief Collection on co-op in time for Halo 5, teammates can do as much as shoot the same enemy or hop to the next platform at the appropriate time, or as little as get in the way and try to kill you, but that is the end of the cooperative experience. Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, developed and produced by Asteroid Base, is perhaps a one of a kind co-op experience which necessitates working together to pilot a space ship in, yes, a dangerous spacetime. A complete dependence on two players or a single player with an AI ally makes for one of the most unique and enjoyable indies on the market.
Aesthetically Lovers is a simple, cute, and colorful world inhabited by bunnies and nondescript astronauts pressing the boundaries of space and time utilizing technology harnessing the most powerful force of all, love. When Anti-Love threatens peace and progress, however, its up to you and a friend to build and upgrade a ship, rescue bunnies, and save the day. Under the cute look and story of the game is actually a satisfyingly challenging experience for two that has each player take control of one character as the two characters maneuver through and control a spaceship. Traveling around in the ship itself is easy and the controls are sharp and simple, ideal for quick transitions from, say, a steering position, to a position at one of the ships four guns. Outside of the guns and controlling the position and power of the thruster, the only other positions to cover in the ship are its laser shield, essential to surviving enemy encounters, a map room with which to navigate space by, and a powerful cannon that automatically circles around the ship. The challenge isn’t in getting from one position in the ship to another, but in operating a ship with seven controls amongst two people. Cooperation, communication, and trust are all key to operating the ship, and as the course difficulty steadily gets steeper, so does the tension and need for teamwork.
Lovers gameplay, then, is a juggling act in which one player must maneuver the ship around while the other stations the shield or a gun. When conflict arises, as it most certainly will, the players must choose the best course of action, flee or fight, two guns or one and a shield, and each player must rely on the snap judgments of their teammate. My best friend and I are shockingly great at wordlessly communicating and conveying what must be done. When our ship was attacked, one of us typically started shooting while the other defended the ship on the other three sides with the shield, until there were either few enough enemies to go full offensive or, a path on one side was clear enough that we could get away. When one of us moved to the control terminal, the other typically moved to the shield to defend the side of the ship on whichever side the enemy would first appear on.
The challenge can feel a little too steep and a even a little cheap. Things easily get overwhelming, but that makes the shared sensation of getting through the ordeal that much more rewarding. Thankfully, the ship can be upgraded as well. General upgrades make the ship move faster, or the guns fire quicker, while metal upgrades turn guns into buzz saws and the thruster into a shrapnel shooting miracle ideal for covering tracks or even taking the offensive on the move. Experimentation never feels unrewarded, and upgrades are never hard to come by, so that even if progress to the ship doesn’t last area to area, upgrading and experimenting all over again never feels like a hassle.
Each course and the enemies you encounter also feel diverse, so nothing will ever feel stale in the six to eight hours a play through typically should take. You’ll save bunnies from cage-looking robots, fight little land tanks, super explosive ships, and run from evil green space dust. Perhaps most enjoyably, the boss encounters are constellations come to life, the first a colorful take on the bear Ursa Major. Each map is also procedurally generated, so on replaying the game the experience won’t be quite the same, meaning you’ll still have to hunt for all of those bunnies and upgrades.
What I enjoyed most about my time with Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime was Asteroid Base’s understated or unstated commentary on what love actually is. In Lovers, love isn’t merely a force, or amicable feelings, or anything beyond that. Love is actually the core mechanic of the game, and that is teamwork and cooperation and everything that these things take (trust, communication, and shared experience). That such a profound statement can come out of such a fun, neon-colored, space techno soundtracked game is astounding and bodes well for the industry. While the game can be played single player, in which the player takes on the role of an astronaut and the AI plays as his or her pet (perhaps further commentary on what it means to be single), the experience is not the same. For one, the pet, while generally intelligent, merely takes orders from the player, and there is never that need of trust in another’s judgment or communication. This also slows the pace of the game, as the player must pause, give the pet instructions, and see the pet respond to them. On a deeper level, this doesn’t replicate the nuances of a pet and owner relationship. My love for my dog doesn’t come from his ability to obey, but in seeing him make his own decisions that I can scarcely fathom. In this regard, the games commentary on pet relationships falls drastically short of the relationship between friends, lovers, and everything in between.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is an incredible and enjoyable co-op experience that truly forces two individuals to work as a single unit to fly a ship, take out enemies, and maneuver through spacetime. While eventually challenging almost to the point of being antagonizing, Lovers remarkably works as a commentary for what love between two people is and requires. To the games credit, when things go awry, the shared experience rarely turns in to frustration or disappointment between the players so much as with the game. If you and a friend, or girlfriend, or spouse, or pet are looking to test the limits of your coordination and cooperation, look no further than Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime. You’re bound to love it.