Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a 2D space exploration, action and ship management hybrid game that puts you and a friend in control of a rather cute neon pink spaceship tasked with saving the world from the forces of Anti-Love. Developers Asteroid Base have already enjoyed numerous awards from a great number of outlets for the title, including being one of the officially selected stand-out games from PAX 2013 as well as Indiecade 2015. Now that the game has finally been released after a number of years in development, does it hold up to the hype? Let’s grab a friend, pop on a spacesuit and find out.
One of the first things that struck me about the game was its visual design – Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime sports a simplistic-ish yet absolutely adorable art style, quite reminiscent of something you might see come out of Flash – nearly every character, enemy and environmental element has thick, bright outlines, gorgeously fluid animation and a certain radiance to it, brought on by strong use of vibrant colours throughout the game. It does its job perfectly, putting you in exactly the right mood for what the gameplay and the story have to offer.
Speaking of which, the game’s story is about as adorable as its aesthetic – long ago in the faraway future, two races of anthropomorphic bunnies and frogs come together to build the Ardor Reactor, a machine that harnesses the most awesome force in the universe – love. An error in the XOXO matrix unleashes the hideous forces of “Anti-Love” upon the galaxy, which splits the Ardor Reactor before quickly spreading and starting to imprison the Cosmic Space Bunnies (CSBs). One of the bunny scientists manages to get a signal to a prototype ship controlled by the player found in the ruins of the Reactor. From there, it’s a quest to frantically co-operate, speed through space and do a lot of shooting and exploring to take down the Anti-Love forces once and for all.
The game’s first mission is a tutorial, which teaches you the art of moving about your ship with the analog stick, interacting with the X button and jumping with A, before introducing you to the good stuff – various consoles you can sit your character at to control a certain aspect of your ship, such as the steering, cannons, map screen, shields and so on. The tutorial does its job perfectly, forming the groundwork without giving too much about the game’s other mechanics away, tying in to the game’s exploratory nature.
Not long after picking up the keyboard controls I understood why the developers recommended a controller, however – tasks requiring analogue control such as aiming the ship’s cannons and thruster are a bit more awkward on keyboard and if you’re Player 2, the default key mappings have your hands scrunched at the left-hand side of the keyboard, using Z to interact, Left Shift to jump and WSAD to move. Whilst this is fine if you’re sharing a keyboard with someone else, it’s a bit of a hindrance when playing with someone else using a controller. Oddly enough, the default Player 1 keyboard controls, activated by hitting Enter instead of Left Shift, felt far better, using the arrow keys to move, space to jump and M to interact. Thankfully though, the keyboard and controller inputs alike are fully rebindable, allaying this issue somewhat.
The main aim of the game once you’ve got your ship running is to find an exit portal to move on to the next stage. Said portal is usually locked until you’ve rescued a certain number of Cosmic Space Bunnies found locked in cages spread throughout the stage, which you can find by either listening out for the CSBs’ distressed calls or by picking up rabbit-head tokens, which reveal where the some of the cages are on your ship’s map. Once you’ve found enough CSBs, they’ll combine their energy and unlock the exit portal for you.
The game handles its co-operative features exceedingly well – every player will be able to do something on the ship well, even if it’s just directing the shields. I can foresee this being a great parent/young relative game, especially on the Casual difficulty mode, as even if you’re not great with a controller or a keyboard you won’t have to remember too many buttons to be effective. I played the first few missions with my Dad, and whilst he wasn’t entirely confident with using the cannons, he quickly found directing the ship using the steering console more to his liking, which whilst it left me almost solely responsible for defending the ship, great times were had regardless as we sped from an enemy ambush after rescuing all the CSBs in a level, him guiding us away whilst I blocked the huge number of enemy projectiles and cushioned the odd close call with a wall.
As you travel around the beautifully stylised semi-randomized level layouts of space searching for the cages, you’ll encounter quite a few things.
There’s a great number of different enemies to encounter, including the huge bosses that bookend each campaign. Every enemy will test you in a different way – with one of my favourite early enemies being the odd yellow and orange fly-like creatures that fly around your ship spraying fire, meaning you’ll have to jump from console to console in order to catch it. You’ll also occasionally encounter some rather terrifying mini-bosses, such as bombs that cause a huge, slowly-expanding explosion and flies that spit meteors from their eyes, which are usually triggered by rescuing CSBs from alarmed cages, which attract a swarm of enemies to them when you get too close. Encounters with a great number of enemies never stops being an incredibly tense affair as you and your co-op partner scramble to communicate what needs to be done and put it into effect, and they’re all the better for it. When your ship starts taking a battering from enemy projectiles, you definitely find yourself getting a bit of a Star Trek battle vibe as you struggle to keep yourselves alive.
There’s also a number of pickups – Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime rewards exploration further by dropping loot crates throughout the world, which when shot open might give you a rabbit-head token to reveal the location of a cage or a present, which usually yields one of a number of potential upgrades. One such upgrade is the “Power Crystal”, a huge gem-shaped crystal that can be popped onto one of the consoles on your ship to improve it – guns will deal more damage, your thruster will become more powerful, etcetera. Another is the Metal Gem, which I placed onto my shield, fortifying it into a huge, spiked metal barrier. There’s a myriad of different upgrades to find, and it’s always interesting making that split second decision of what to upgrade and how well it’ll work, made that little bit worse by the fact you have to find another item, such as the Remover, to take the gems off.
A really nice facet of Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime’s movement mechanics is its use of gravity and orbits – most of the levels have small planetoids of varying size in them, some of which serve a particular function – e.g. the green planetoids with small heart-cluster trees that refill your ship’s health. If you guide your ship correctly, you can find yourself in a stable orbit around a planet, allowing your ship to keep moving even when you’re away from the steering console. This isn’t just particularly useful for escaping a big group of enemies by letting you man your gun consoles whilst still attempting to avoid enemy projectiles, but also for gaining extra ground.
You’ll come across groups of planetoids fairly often, and as most of them will have their own centres of gravity you can find yourself caught in multiple orbits. When you’re right in the middle of a pair of separate potential orbits, if you manoeuvre yourself correctly, you can manipulate those orbits to fling yourself in whatever direction they’re both dragging you, giving you a great boost of speed. This can go wrong if you’re not careful though, and you’ll probably find yourself smashing into the planetoids a few times before you master the gravity mechanics. Even so, they undoubtedly add a welcome bit of extra depth to the act of sailing through space.
As you rescue more and more CSBs, you’ll eventually increase your rank, allowing you to unlock new ships as well as upgrades for your existing ones, such as the ability to have two gems on your consoles, rewarding going out of your way to rescue every available CSB further.
Those playing without another human being in the room need not fear about facing the super-cute spacefaring adventure alone either, as you can instead recruit an AI pet to go along with you. The AI cat (Kepler) or dog (Doppler) you choose to team up with usually works really well with all the various stations on your ship, shooting at what needs to be shot and shielding you from harm fairly effectively.
You control your pet by giving it orders, which is a simple process – during gameplay, holding the Y button on an Xbox controller will slow down time and highlight each station on your ship. You then just point towards whatever station you’d like them to take control of with the analog stick and they’re off, slinking through the ship towards their destination. Whilst it’s quite easy to forget to order your pet to whatever station they need to be at as you don’t have the option of moment-to-moment communication you have with another person, the AI pets do their job well and allow the game to have a fairly fulfilling single-player experience too.
From a musical perspective I quickly grew fond of the game’s soundtrack – the great majority of Ryan Henwood’s soundtrack for the game is highly synthesised, with a number of really “bubbly” sounding tracks that get you in the mood for space flight, mixed with some more intense ones to add greater drama to the various battles you’ll end up embroiled in. The music overall blends with the game’s aesthetic perfectly and definitely adds even more to the overall experience. Plus, there’s definitely a couple of tracks here that would brighten up many a bus or train journey outside of the game.
All in all, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a difficult but unique co-op experience that’s definitely worth braving the long stretches of Anti-Love filled space to play. If the pre-order price of $14.99 seems a bit steep for you, rest assured that there’s quite a lot of varied content including a fair bit I haven’t touched on here, and if you’re going to rescue all of the 160 Cosmic Space Bunnies scattered throughout the game’s four campaigns (five including the Tutorial) you could easily sink a lot of time into it. If you’re looking for some plain old couch co-op fun or something along the lines of a real-time, super-cute version of Faster Than Light, this is definitely the game for you.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is currently available on Steam.
This review is written based on the PC version of Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime provided to us by the developers.