Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime review: fantastic planet

Game Info
Platform Win, Mac, Xbox One
Publisher N/A
Developer Asteroid Base
Release Date

As kitschy as the name "Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime" might seem, every word in that title is completely accurate. It's a game about love; about a galaxy fueled by affection, and a game design that tests the relationship and teamwork of its two co-op players. It takes place in outer space, albeit an infinitely colorful and vibrant version of outer space, inhabited by adorable, bipedal animals.

However, the most apt word in that title — by a country mile — is "dangerous." Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a stress-handling simulator, one that delights in tossing you into the deep end of the pool after you've just escaped the deep end of a different, adjacent pool. That may sound like a turn-off, but sharing in that constant scrambling with a friend is uniquely rewarding, assuming you both don't drown.

Constant scrambling with a friend is uniquely rewarding

You and your co-pilot — who can also be an AI pet that you can command — are tasked with flying a circular spaceship lined with different terminals through asteroid belts, space stations and other tight-quarters environments on a rescue mission. Each terminal serves a different function: Your basic ship has turrets in all four cardinal directions, a station that lets you rotate a projectile-blocking shield around your ship, a "super weapon" on a long recharge, a pilot's chair and, most amusingly, a map terminal you have to use periodically to get your bearings.

Each station can be upgraded by collecting gems found floating around in the inky blackness of space, which can further be combined to develop unique power-ups. By the end of each campaign chapter, your standard ship will have transformed into a power-thrusting, caltrop-dropping, chainsaw-wielding, rocket-launching, projectile-reflecting death machine. After completing that same chapter, you lose it all. C'est la vie.

The joy of Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is knowing which two stations any given situation calls for. If you're scouting for rescue targets — each level has 10, though you only need to locate five to move on to the next level — one player flies while the other bounces between the map and whichever gun is facing forward. Learning which fights require the use of the shield and which require the well-timed deployment of a super weapon takes nearly the whole game, but making the right judgment call is hugely satisfying.

You actually have to run and jump around the interior of your ship to go to those different stations, so plotting your course and your teammate's course becomes half the challenge. It's not easy to hop off a cannon and dive into the shield station to try to make a last-minute save, or to deploy the super weapon and pilot it into the path of an incoming enemy. The game is constantly pushing you ever so slightly out of your comfort zone, which is almost always an exhilarating place to be.

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Sometimes, though, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime ramps up the difficulty too far, too fast. On the game's "Normal" difficulty, you'll occasionally be beset upon by waves of enemies spawning in on all sides, launching more projectiles at you than you could ever dodge or block, all knocking you into damaging terrain or into the path of an awaiting sentry gun. I've gone from full health to exploded in a matter of seconds, losing a 15-minute run before I knew what hit me.

It's enough to sap your desire to hit the Retry button, and probably enough to send you into the loving embrace of the still-kind-of-difficult "Casual" difficulty setting.

Difficulty spikes notwithstanding, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is otherwise respectful of its players' time. You can knock out the campaign in a little over five hours, but no two levels are alike — you'll ricochet between hectic timed rescue missions, underwater current surfing missions, wave-based survival missions and some genuinely clever, thrilling boss battles, with little repetition between them. It was enough to keep me constantly guessing, and frequently crashing.

Every facet of Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime's design is built around coordination, especially once you unlock more complex ships that tamper with the core rules of the game. For example, the "Banana Split" vessel has color-coded security doors that only certain players can pass through — flying that ship involves a lot of yelling across the couch.

However, I'm torn on whether or not it's easier to play with an AI partner, represented by a space helmet-equipped cat or dog. You can direct them to scamper to and control any station on your ship, except for the pilot's seat. They can move lightning-fast, and there's no confusion on where both pilots are at any given time, but your AI teammate is incapable of the kind of triage a human player brings to the table. I can't count the number of times my dumb cat has rotated our shield to block a single incoming projectile, moving that shield out of the way of the 30 incoming projectiles on the opposite side.

Bad, cat. Bad.

Wrap Up:

Cooperation softens Lovers' hardships

Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime can occasionally feel a little too stressful for its own good, but there's something undeniably lovely about its core design. It is, ultimately, an object lesson in dealing with hardships — that even when they grow to be far too much to handle, they can be softened with the support of a patient and cooperative friend.

Or, if you can't find a patient and cooperative friend, you can always just get a cat.

Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime was reviewed using a pre-release "retail" Xbox One download token provided by Asteroid Base. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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8.0 Win
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