Throughout the annals of gaming history, the very notion of co-operative play has been a perennially enticing one. Whether that’s because it improves a game that would otherwise be consigned to the abyss of mediocrity or if it enhances an already great experience, it’s fair to say that no game has ever really been hurt by the addition of co-operative play. Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime does something really quite imaginative with the whole concept, putting players in control of a space-bound battleship and its myriad of systems as they steer it through a neon-hued galaxy stuffed with space animals and, well, a variety of less friendly creatures.
If the cute space furries didn’t tip you off as to the colossal amounts of whimsy on display in Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, then the premise most certainly will. Set in a far-flung future where the galaxy is powered by that most precious of fuels, love, the all-powerful engine which is responsible for pumping it around the stars has become infected with the nefarious anti-love and has thusly broken asunder. With an inter-dimensional portal torn through space and the evil creatures from the anti-love domain pouring through and causing havoc, it is up to you to take your ship and restore love to the galaxy once again. It’s an appropriately fluffy take on intergalactic peril and one that invariably makes Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime eminently suitable for ages.
At the core of the game lies the control of every aspect of this ship, including its four lasers, shields, navigation, special weapon and map functionality. Certainly while the initial impression of having to manage different aspects of a spaceship might appear daunting, the developers have done a bang up job of making it feel like anything but. Played from a two-dimensional perspective, two players assume control of every aspect of the spaceship, climbing up and down ladders and leaping about the innards of the craft in realtime as they shuffle roles based on what needs to be done. Because there is only ever two of you, there is a fair amount of on-the-fly decision making as you could have one person piloting the ship while another checks the map for points of interest, for instance.
During combat things get even more tense, as you and a couch-based friend bark orders at one another while you both scramble around the ship deflecting enemy attacks with the shields and returning fire with each of the four cannons attached to its hull. It really is difficult to understate just how satisfying it is to succeed with another player in Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime and in doing so it provides a thrill that you just don’t get from any other co-operatively driven experience to date. In retrospect, I don’t think I have dished out such a barrage of high-fives since I stopped feeling my face this past Christmas after a particularly spirited whiskey binge.
What really helps to make the co-operative element of Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime work so well is that each and every role is absolutely crucial. Whether you’re in charge of navigating the ship through a tight series of tunnels or blocking volleys of enemy fire with the rotating shields, you never ever feel like you’ve been left in a pointless and unsatisfying vocation and by making everyone feel like they’re important and they have something to contribute, that in turn makes the experience infinitely more enjoyable.
While Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime does a fantastic job of getting two people together in the same room to embark on a wonderful bit of sugary spacefaring, the same sadly cannot be said for accommodating anybody who might be further afield. Indeed, the degree of bafflement that greets the discovery of the game’s lack of online co-op is such that it comfortably ranks alongside other topics that might bewilder regular folk such as “why are they still making Die-Hard movies” or “how do people dislike Helldivers?”. In short, a patch would be greatly welcomed to address this egregious oversight.
It isn’t all just cutting about space and blasting extremely hostile, yet colourful alien folk to smithereens, it just mostly is. You see, in order to complete each level you have to steer your ship into a portal in order to progress onto the next area within each of the four campaigns. To do this though, you need to free ‘friends’ (they’re really space bunnies, space foxes and other such animals to name a few), from their cages by blasting their iron prisons to pieces.
In addition to unlocking the exit out of every level, each emancipated critter also contributes to upgrades for the ship as well, allowing players to bolster the shielding, guns and propulsion of the craft as they encounter stronger and more troublesome foes in the later stages of the game. This also brings with it a great incentive to keep exploring each map long after you’ve reached the mandatory number of space furries needed to escape, as you are forever tempted to keep on making your ship as powerful as it possibly can be.
Such hardier opposition usually comes in the form of the game’s bosses that appear at the end of each campaign and these guys, well, let’s just say that they don’t mess about. Often filling the screen, these vibrant-looking intergalactic titans provide the sternest test yet to your teamwork, forcing you and your partner to be on the top of your game in order to make it past them in one piece. Expect failure to begin with, sure, but also expect the sort of throat-debilitating whooping that comes with their defeat, too.
The whole experience is kept perpetually fresh by the decision to use randomly generated levels which means that not only will players receive a unique set of maps every time they play the game, but they’ll also experience any number of cosmic hazards as well, such as planetary bodies that can suck your ship into their orbit, for example. Of course the massive, galaxy-spanning elephant in the room is how does Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime fare when you have no fleshy friends in your immediate vicinity and thankfully, it holds up extremely well indeed. Rather than employing another human, you instead choose between either a feline or canine companion, breaking them out of an adorable bouncing pet carrier as the two of you set off together on your very own deep space odyssey.
In practice, controlling your ship and all its functions proves wonderfully simple. By depressing a side trigger and using the right analogue stick, you can easily delegate orders to your furry friend, sending them off to take control of any of the stations that a human player would normally be tasked with taking care of. It also doesn’t hurt that your AI companion is highly competent at whatever task you set them to, so you don’t need to worry about your PS4 controlled partner not pulling their weight and royally screwing everything up. Ostensibly though, if you can rope somebody in to play alongside you, than Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is best enjoyed in the company of someone with a mouth that can shout and hands that can slap.
Disarmingly cute and charming throughout, there’s something so very pure about careening around the fluffy, neon-hued galaxies of Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime as you liberate imprisoned furry friends and destroy brightly coloured alien ships. With its toweringly innovative take on co-operative play, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime manages that rare feat of making everyone involved in its grand endeavour feel immensely valued and that’s something that you can never place a high enough value upon.