If you had have asked me a few months ago whether or not I thought couch co-op is dead, I would have bowed my head and had a minute’s silence. The Halo LAN parties I used to host are a fond memory of the past. No longer do I sit down with a player two and play “stage by stage, life by life”. Because now we have the interwebs! We have Xbox LIVE and the PlayStation Network and Battle.net. We don’t have to bundle our spare controllers, consoles and TV’s into a car anymore, we’re all connected. So what place does couch co-op have in this modern gaming world? How can it possibly be relevant anymore? Well, a strong case for the positive came out recently, and it’s currently free to download on Xbox LIVE! I recently got three of my mates around to have a crack at one of the most unique and downright fun couch co-op experiences I’ve had since The New Super Mario Bros!
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is certainly a weird title and it gives little away about its story but essentially it follows the same old schtick that all games do: things were wonderful until the not so wonderful thing happened, then as a hero of all that is wonderful you set out on an epic journey to restore the wonderfulness. This is no different and it’s glaringly obvious! But somehow for this title it works. The galaxy was full of love, until one day a force of anti-love came and broke some love-generator-thingy (shaped like a heart) into pieces and spread them across the galaxy (while kidnapping individuals for some reason). As a representative of love you and your crew need to go out into the galaxy and rescue critters, find the missing pieces and restore love to the galax…. blah blah blah. It doesn’t really matter. The story takes a back seat to the game play and so it should! It’s necessary to drive the narrative and give you a reason to explore but it does its job and otherwise stays out of the way. That’s what you want in a game like this. Its not a Final Fantasy title that wants to tell you a grand story over several discs, it’s just there to say ‘this is what you need to do, go do it and have fun.’
You are the motley crew of the Gumball-0, an interstellar vessel of love!
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a truly unique experience. Technically it’s a co-op platformer but it feels more like an arcade shooter. You play as the motley crew of the Bumball-0. Your little critters move about the rooms of the ship performing different roles; Gunning one of the ship’s four turrets, piloting the ship, angling the ship’s defensive shield or operating the Yamanto cannon (for when you just have to love every mother%&#@er in the room… and by love I mean utterly destroy). To perform any of these roles you simply have to traverse the ship and enter the appropriate room and activate its console. Outside of your ship are all sorts of enemies to lovingly destroy and obstacles that you have to traverse in order to warp to the next level. Rescue five cute little creatures and you can leave, rescue all 10 and you get that much closer to unlocking upgrades for your ship and eventually totally new ships. Upgrades come in the form of gem slots for each room. Each room has one but you can upgrade them to have two slots where you can start to experiment combining the different gem types to discover their effects. There are three types of gems; energy, beam and metal. We had fun putting two metal gems onto the Yamanto cannon to turn it into a giant razor blade that cuts through enemies when you’re surrounded, or putting energy gems into the engines so we could boost around the maps.
Your ships are fully customisable and eventually you can unlock more ships. This game rewards the completionists.
Things get quite hectic in this game which is what makes this game truly fun. The four of us didn’t really go into this with a chain of command in mind but we just naturally assumed that the pilot was captain and everyone just seemed to report to him. It worked for us because the pilot could focus on the surroundings while the gunners and shield operators needed to focus more on what was in front of them. But each player playing their part in the overall success of each mission is a very rewarding thing and we lost track of hours as we kept playing, laughing, screaming and having fun, all within an elbows reach of each other! There’s not a lot wrong with the gameplay in this game. If I had one criticism, I would say that the single player experience is not nearly as fun and is a bit more stressful. Instead of having a mate you have a dog that you can order into different rooms and will go ahead and operate its console. But it’s just the two of you and when things start to get hectic, it gets overwhelming quite quickly having to manage two characters. This also means that only two things on the ship are ever operational at any given time which makes the challenge even greater. This game shines as a co-op experience.
This game is a visual treat. The graphics and sprites are clean and crisp and only when things get truly hectic does it start to get difficult to determine what’s what, and that’s OK, because it feels like it’s all a part of the challenge. The menus fit in with the overall theme and are easy to navigate. The visuals are also a key element in the game’s mechanics. Large circular land masses pull you into their orbits and the game gives you a handy indicator of your current orbital path. Water levels have currents that push you around and later on you have to pay close attention to subtle visual cues in order to understand how to defeat your foes. So in other words, the visuals don’t just make the game look pretty (even though they does a very good job at that) it also serves a purpose and that’s what you want in a game like this.
Visuals play a big part in how you interact with the levels.
Overall the sound in this game is good. The music takes its place in the background as an atmospheric device and mood-setter and really only comes to the foreground in between fights when it’s not trying to compete with everything else for your attention. Sound effects can be quite repetitive though, which at times got a little annoying and prompted me to turn the volume down. Each time a gun of a certain type fires, it makes exactly the same sounds with no variation at all. So when you have four of the buggers firing at once it can start to wear on you after a while, but I’m being nitpicky here.
Sadly it is in this category that the game hits a stumbling block. And this is more a problem with couch co-op than with anything specifically about this game. Since there’s no online play mode in this game, it’s hard to get 3 other mates together to play this on any regular basis. After our initial gaming session on this, I wasn’t able to round up my super-awesome A-team again in time for this review to be published. Also I have not felt compelled to return to the single player mode because it’s just not as fun. Like most co-op games, once you complete the story you’ll tend to move on to other games while this one takes up space on your hard drive. This game will give you momentary joy and is a rewarding experience but it will be unlikely to have you coming back for more on a regular basis.
Asteroid Base have developed a cute little game that is highly worthy of its 2016 nomination for a BAFTA award for best Debut Game. It’s fun, it’s quirky and it had a group of four 30-somethings reliving their childhood gaming years! I highly recommend giving this one a crack, and if you hurry, it’s currently included as a free title for Games with Gold for the month of February.