After somewhat stumbling when the Xbox One was first announced, Microsoft is now establishing itself as a destination for independent developers who want to release their games on home consoles as well as PC. Although the PlayStation 4 has still got much of an advantage in this department, the Xbox One is now getting its own steady stream of indie releases that are both unique and of very high quality. In the past few months games such as #IDARB, Super Time Force, Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians and Submerged have all become available on the console, but where will Asteroid Base’s new multiplayer shooter Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime fit in?
To cut a long story short, this title may be one of the best to come through the ID@Xbox program. It excels in almost every aspect and provides a very enjoyable gaming experience that few other games manage to replicate. At its very basic elements, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a co-operative shooter and although it may look at first glance like the bullet hell games that require memorization of fire patterns and lightning fast reflexes, it is actually much deeper than that.
You are the pilot of a large spaceship that is home to a variety of different systems, including weapons, shields, thrusters and special powers. The only problem is that each component is in a separate part of the ship, meaning that you not only have to navigate through the tricky confines of space but also through the tight quarters of your vehicle as you race to get to the appropriate system in time.
This might sound incredibly complicated but it soon becomes clear that the gameplay design works very well. After a tutorial mission that briefs you on the basics, you are thrust into the action and by that point everything is almost second nature. It’s also simplified somewhat by the fact that you will always have some help to control the ship, whether it is in the form of a real-life co-op partner or an AI controlled pet. Switching through different roles takes only a little bit of communication between you and your playing partner to ensure you are on the same page and not both heading in the same direction, while the various components are straightforward to operate. Firing turrets, controlling the shield and moving with the thrusters are all intuitive so that you aren’t needlessly handicapped by overburdened controls.
It’s satisfying to play a game that revolves around co-operative play actually be designed with the core mechanic. All too often it feels like co-op is something tacked onto a game to add another feature for the marketing department, meaning it too frequently just feels hollow and unnecessary. Lovers demands players work together as a cohesive whole in a way that few other games have ever managed.
As seems common with indie games that are releasing on consoles recently, Lovers doesn’t have any online multiplayer portion, meaning that if you are without a friend to play with on your own couch you will instead have to rely on an AI controlled character. Luckily, the developers seem to have put much effort into ensuring that your chosen pet is intelligent enough to carry out the various tasks on the ship to a high standard. This means that the game can still be enjoyed as a singleplayer title and won’t leave your frustrated by the lack of a co-op partner.
The story of Lovers is nothing spectacular. You are part of the League Of Very Empathetic Rescue Spacenauts (The Lovers) who are attempting to release a collection of bunnies that have been kidnapped by the dark forces of the Ardor Reactor. The mission is to stop this evil force and once again spread love throughout the universe.
To that end, the player has to travel through four different campaigns that are made up of a collection of levels. These levels hold gems that can be collected for special powerups and the kidnapped bunnies that you have to rescue a minimum number of before being allowed to continue. Once the requisite number of bunnies have been rescued the player is faced with a challenging boss fight that will put everything you have learned so far to the test.
There’s plenty of replayability in Lovers too thanks to the vast amount of customization options and the fact that levels are randomly generated. This offers an incentive to carry on playing without getting bored of the same locations. Parts of the ship can be mixed and matched to create new affects, while collecting enough bunnies will allow you to change to an all new ship that has unique abilities. More importantly, the various campaigns introduce their own separate mechanics and special enemy types which certainly helps to keep things fresh as you advance.
Other aspects of the game also match up to the high standards set in the gameplay. The visual style is colourful, crisp and distinctive, though it is probably best described as cute. Not to the extent that it seems childish or is off putting, but it is undeniably adorable and this charm fits perfectly with the co-operative nature of the gameplay and the overarching story. Overall, the game is a gorgeous experience that is accompanied by an engaging soundtrack that matches the on-screen action perfectly.
It is very easy to see just how much effort developer Asteroid Base has put into Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime. The game oozes with quality in every single respect and is one of the most unique titles that you are likely to have played in the last few years. As stated earlier, it is simply one of the best indie games available on the Xbox One and definitely worthy of anyone’s time because of how fun it really is to play.
This review is based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher for review purposes. The game is available now on Xbox One, PC, Linux & Mac for $14.99.