By and large, love is better with other people. And when saving all the love in the universe means shooting a bunch of weirdo space aliens -- as it does in Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime -- you definitely want another person helping you.
Out this week for Xbox One and Steam, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a hybrid space shooter that mashes up at least three different game design genres. Played with another person in the same room or a AI-controlled companion, the game casts its characters as astro-warriors trying to defeat evil forces spreading anti-love throughout a formerly utopian cartoon universe. Asteroid Base's creation is centered around a series of spaceships that are sectioned off in discrete rooms, each holding a weapon or feature that needs to be used or tweaked by a player in real time. As different threats attack from 360 degrees, players will need to run around the ship, manning guns, changing shield position or steering around hazards.
That part of Lovers is reminiscent of both real-time resource management adventures like FTL and any number of platformers. Lovers also has some roguelike elements in its recipe, as the game throws randomly generated levels at players and encourages players to use collectible gems to upgrade or change various parts of the ship. You can wind up with pretty cool combinations depending on how you use the metal, power, and beam gems on the shield, guns, or engine of a spacecraft. But your uniquely bitchin' ride will go away once you complete each constellation and you'll need to build up a vanilla ship all over again.
Upgrades come in the form of presents, your single-player helper is either a space-dog or space-cat and the wailing and cooing of the cartoony animal friends you rescue remains adorable hours into the game. With its trippy art direction and catchy electro-tinged soundtrack, the whole package is all so appealing that I fired Lovers up so my four-year-old daughter could watch. I never do that. I also haven't really let her try a console game yet but she got her first small taste here.
But, for all its cute looks, Lovers is a tough, hectic game that demands frequent communication and multitasking. Take a look at Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo and I playing through the fourth section of the game's first world/constellation.
You can't hear it but this website's bossman and I were constantly calling out enemies, directing each other to various rooms and praising/chiding each other over how we were doing. Things got even more hectic during the boss fight that followed.
Lovers is tough with two reasonably seasoned players manning the ship. The difficulty is more pronounced when it's just one player in charge of everything. You can direct your space-animal helper to specific areas of the ship -- they're not allowed to drive, though -- and their AI is very good about shooting what needs to get shot and protecting the ship from damage when you put them on shield duty. When you're swarmed by enemies, trying to play offence and steer the ship will probably prove to be too much to handle. Pacing and self-control is key in Lovers. As threats mount, it's important that you stop your Lover ship, get on a gun and task your space-pet onto one, too. Shoot everything that's coming at you until they're all dead. Take breathers to map out your course and plow ahead. Lather, rinse, repeat.
But, difficulty aside, Lovers feels very lonely as a single-player game. The number of enemies scales down a bit but the level of challenge still felt too burly for one person and an AI space-pet to handle. Each constellation harbours a new sort of environmental tweak that you'll need to contend with in its levels. Some have polar space winds that blow you around the map, miniature suns that ricochet deadly flares at 90-degree angles from where you shoot them or water planetoids with currents that pull you along specific paths. And as you encounter them solo, it's hard not to think that it'd be better to combine brainpower with another actual human being.
Or, as my downstairs neighbour put while I played the game with him: "You cannot stop us. We are too loving." Lovers' constant mix of enemies keeps you guessing and having to communicate out loud and re-strategize on the fly. Camaraderie happens almost instantaneously. When you get those precious little breathers in between swarms of combat, you really appreciate the fragile mix of skills and co-operation that has let your space tandem live this long. Lovers is the kind of game where you're constantly congratulating your partner for a sweet dodge, smart shield placement or efficient aiming. And while it's playable with a computer-controlled companion, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is at its best when you have someone to share it with. It's a game that will improve your friendships or help you make new ones.