When it comes to gaming, the word "innovative" is bandied about an awful lot, especially since the dawn of the indie game. The gun that you had in that Game X? Well in Derivative Game Y, it can fire grenades too! Innovative. Remember how difficult it was to tackle the striker in that soccer title? Well in this season's edition, the ball doesn't stick so resolutely to the striker's feet! Innovative. How about that racing game where you couldn't change the pressure of each tyre individually? Well now you can! Innovative.
However, when the I-word is used in reference to Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, it actually fits.
In case you're not aware of the premise, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a co-op adventure that takes place on a spherical spaceship. The ship contains various stations – four guns, a cannon, shields, a map, and a steering panel – which the two players inside have to rush between in order to complete their goal. Heading into a battle, player one may take control of the right-hand gun for example, while player two looks after the shields in order to fend off any attacks that get through. Players can abandon their specific station at any time and switch to another and with the fast-paced action that crops up during the game's procedurally generated levels, communication between players is absolutely key. Given that you take damage from crashing into walls – in the default ship, at least – it's quickly apparent that if there's any sort of breakdown in comms off-screen, you aren't going to get very far at all.
Each station on-board the ship can be upgraded using gems, which can be picked up as you play through. In most cases, multiple gems can be combined to create more impressive improvements. Throw two metal gems into a gunnery position and your weak laser cannon now becomes an improvised mace, with two spiky metal spheres being flung about with abandon at the end of a chain. Throw two beam gems in there and you've got a gun that could vapourise a mountain at ten paces. Once you work out that you can add a gem to the drive system to fire beams or bullets from the ship's exhaust as you navigate, things open up even more and the possibilities of combinations become something that you'll truly need to think about when approaching each level.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime contains four acts, each consisting of a handful of stages. Your goal in each stage is to locate a specified number of incarcerated bunnies. Once you've got enough, they'll pool their love together (aww) to open up the heart-shaped level exit. If you so wish, you can carry on searching through the level to find the "bonus friends" that are dotted around. Of course, this carries an extra bit of risk as once the level exit is open, the various enemies tend to increase their aggression somewhat. At the end of each act, you get to take on a final boss which is based on a celestial body. The first couple of these are a cakewalk to beat, with repetitive and predictable actions that can be easily countered. The third and fourth are where the real challenge comes in and they'll doubtless cause a few arguments between players.
As a co-op experience, the game as a whole is something special. We've alluded to the requirement for communication, but it really can't be stressed just how important it is. If one of you just wants to sit and dominate the special weapon, you'll be leaving your co-op partner hanging out to dry as they won't be able to manage to navigate as well as positioning the shields and manning the remaining guns. This sense of overwhelmedness takes what is a relatively slow-paced title (for the most part) and just stacks the pressure up until it becomes a real challenge to get through levels. The addition of a couple of wave attack-style stages is also a nice touch and again, if you aren't communicating, you'll be in trouble as the enemies increase in number as the wave count goes up.
With all this talk of co-op, it's easy to forget that a single-player experience is available here, too. The developers have added an AI-controlled partner that will man (or dog, or cat) whichever station you direct them to. You simply point with the right stick and press Y to aim them toward whichever particular station you want them to use, and they go. They're usually quite decent at their task as well, although their expertise when it comes to using shields is pretty dire. The problem is that the extra responsibility of ordering your partner around tips the scales of manageability just a shade too far as you get further into the game. What was once overwhelming but fun becomes a flawed experience as you find that you're taking damage from five or six angles at once while steering the ship and commanding your AI compadre to please, PLEASE stop messing about with the shields and actually, maybe use them properly to prevent the inevitable death that lies before you. Not only that, but the flaws in a couple of the boss level designs are brought into stark relief when you have to play them over and over and over again as they take you down with cheap attack after cheap attack. Orion – the third boss – is especially nasty. There's no consideration given to the difficulty level when there's only a single player at the wheel – even if there is a "Casual" mode of play available, it's still overly punishing for one - and that's a real shame as it sadly means that Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is one that we can only wholeheartedly recommend for co-op play.
A lot of people will be fine with that because we have to stress that when we say "wholeheartedly recommend", we mean that you should almost definitely be considering a purchase if you ever even so much as think about taking on games in local co-op mode with a friend.
Asteroid Base have done a fine job with Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, providing that you're a co-op gamer. Single players will likely find that they enjoy things up until the game becomes too overwhelming. Still, as a whole, there's a lot to like here – including genuine innovation - and it's definitely something different.