Gateway Games – Video Games for Beginners: Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime

Gateway Games - Video Games For Beginners
Introduction
The Walking Dead Overcooked
Orcs Must Die 2 Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime


Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime At A Glance

Challenge Tier: 2
Recommended Player Experience: Ideally has some experience with side-scrollers, but really just needs to be able to handle a controller.
Starting Difficulty: Moderate
Ending Difficulty: Difficult, however the game gets easier the more players you add.
Difficulty Spikes: Fairly flat difficulty curve with some minor spikes on boss encounters.
Learning Curve: Easy to manage most stations besides the engine. Learning how and when to switch stations can be difficult and frustrating if it isn’t carefully managed.
Visual Aesthetic: Light and colorful style
Storytelling: Cheesy and adorable.
Controller Support – RECOMMENDED: Very tight and easy to learn controls.
Mouse and Keyboard Support: Technically works, but you’ll need to jump through some hurdles to get multiplayer working smoothly.

So you’ve got a few games under your belt and your friend is starting to get it. They aren’t exactly an Uber 1337 MLG Pro Counterstrike player or anything, but they have gone from a non-gamer, to someone who can reliably boot up a game and have a good time.

You may think that it is time to bring them to the next level, but I am asking you to hold back for one more game. Just one more title with low complexity, simple controls, and an emphasis on co-op to make the player really feel they have become a gamer.

I’ll admit I struggled to not go over the top on my non-gaming fiancee after we played through Orcs Must Die 2 in its entirety. By the time we were done with OMD2 Meesh was an orc killing machine, and most importantly she enjoyed it! However, I decided to keep an even tempo. Instead of dialing up the difficulty, my next title was actually a 2d co-op side-scroller where you played a bunch of lovable furry animals… in space!

If you haven’t played Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime yet,

  1. Shame on you
  2. This is your next gateway game

What Does Becoming An Ensign in The Love Force Entail?

Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime is a critically acclaimed indie title where you and your crew of cutesy characters are charged with restoring love to the galaxy. This is accomplished by boarding the experimental spacecraft known as the “Gumball Zero” and blasting your way through the forces of anti-love. Throughout your journey you will rescue all manner of lovable spacefaring creatures, who will utilize their powers of love to break down anti-love barriers, allowing you to advance the game.

If you can’t tell already this game is completely ridiculous in all of the right ways. The dialog is so over-the-top-intentionally-dumb that you can’t help but smile reading it. The plot doesn’t really advance beyond what I wrote above, and honestly it doesn’t need to. Instead this game is centered around unique and interesting co-op gameplay, something it executes very well.

Preparing To Play Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime

Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime has relatively few configuration options. The good news is for the most part the game is pretty stable, so it is unlikely you’ll run into any technical hurdles that prevent you from playing the game.

Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime: Pre-flight Checklist

Graphics Settings: As much as you can muster. Game is fairly lightweight so you can probably up it to a higher resolution.
Audio Settings: Music: MAX!!!! Effects: 75-80%
Controller Settings: Default
Mouse and Keyboard Settings: Assign as needed, recommend you just use a controller if possible.
Gameplay Settings: Default/No-Changes
Difficulty Settings: Recommend starting on Normal
Profile Settings: None
First Boot: Set up your input devices and confirm they work with no lag. Play through the tutorial for a few minutes to ensure there are no crashes.

The game isn’t much of a performance hog, but if you are playing on a very low end system you might need to lower the video settings a bit to maintain a decent frame-rate.

Last but not least… make sure you turn the volume up. You’ll thank me for it later.

Gameplay Overview

The gameplay itself takes place entirely inside of the previously mentioned spaceship the Gumball Zero. This marvelous craft features 8 stations:

  1. The Engine – How the ship moves
  2. The Shield – How the ship blocks enemy fire
  3. The Map – How the ship navigates space
  4. The Top Cannon – How the ship shoots up
  5. The Bottom Cannon – How the ship shoots down
  6. The Left Cannon – How the ship shoots left
  7. The Right Cannon – How the ship shoots right
  8. The Yamato Gun – How the ship shoots everything

The good news is each station can be operated by one crew member. The bad news is that the Gumball Zero only has enough room for a max of 4 people, and the general consensus across the forces of love is that 4 is less than 8. This means that all of the crew members will need to coordinate their efforts shuffling between the various stations to complete the mission. The end result is a raucously fun game where you and your friends frantically scramble around the ship shooting monsters, and collecting randomly generated powerups to beef up the Gumball Zero’s arsenal.

If I’m being honest you might actually be able to get away with having this be your new gamers first or second game. However, for reasons we’ll go more in-depth on later, I recommend keeping this as your 3rd or 4th game unless you plan on playing it with 3 or more players.

What Makes Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime A Gateway Game

There are a couple of key elements that really elevate Lovers as a Gateway Game:

  1. Simple Controls
  2. Manageable but satisfying difficulty
  3. A novel aestethic
  4. An excellent soundtrack

Controls

The control scheme of Lovers consists of 3 elements:

  • Movement – Navigating the ship via thumbstick or direction pad
  • Jumping – Used to leave a battlestation
  • Action – Activates the station you are sitting at, or pickups up an item while navigating the ship
  • Move Pet(Single Player Only) – Slow down time and tell your AI pet which station to man.

Since the game controls like most platformers, it should be easily picked up by most people, especially if they have a bit of experience playing older titles like Mario and Sonic. Although the art of fluidly moving around the ship is a skill that takes some time to acquire, the simple control scheme allows that skill to be acquired in fairly short order.

Nothing is more frustrating to a new player than not being able to translate their thoughts to action, and Lovers’ simple controls help avoid this issue.

Difficulty

It turns out that Lovers is actually a pretty difficult game if you only play with 1 or 2 people. This ends up being a serious boon if your prospective gamer develops a liking for the game, but to start things off I recommend you avoid the veteran difficulty.

Playing with two players we found that casual difficulty was a bit too easy. As a result we ended up completing the game on the normal difficulty setting. While normal isn’t overwhelming, it is challenging enough to cause you to lose a level here and there. This is especially true early on since a few of the starting levels have some pretty serious difficulty spikes. Over time as both players learn to coordinate their efforts the difficulty drops considerably, but the game never becomes boring.

However, in my opinion the best way to augment the difficulty is to add more players. Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime supports up to 4 players, and the game’s difficulty doesn’t really scale when you add more people. This means the game will generally get easier the more players you add, which in conjunction with tweaking the in-game difficulty can allow even the freshest of newbies to participate and contribute.

Aesthetic

Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime looks absolutely wonderful. Although the game takes place in the dark recesses of space, it utilizes a very vibrant and energizing color palette. The art style of the environments, enemies, and weapons is absolutely oozing with character.

At times I found myself getting so engrossed in some of the particularly brilliant weapon effects(I’m looking at your double beam gem upgraded yamato cannon) that I lost track of what was going on around the ship. While this may have resulted in some additional mishaps, neither one of us really cared because the brilliant visuals made for a constant stream of spectacular moments.

Last but not least the protagonists and dialog are absolutely adorable. The simple story and lighthearted nature of the game allows you to jump in with both feet, something many games struggle with. You are a crew of space aliens/animals flying through the stars trying to spread love throughout the universe, fighting against the forces of anti-love.

If you can’t get behind that premise, then quite frankly I suggest you stop reading this article and re-evaluate your life.

Sound and Music

The Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime Soundtrack is absolutely incredible. How incredible do you ask? It is I-am-currently-jamming-to-it-while-writing-this-article-and-it-is-featured-in-my-heavy-rotation-on-Spotify incredible. If you aren’t blasting this music as loud as your neighborhood will allow while playing, you are doing it wrong.

The game features an electronic soundtrack by Ryan Henwood that rivals indie soundtrack giants like Bastion and Super Meat Boy. Furthermore, the soundtrack actually has quite a few tracks on it. I never found myself getting tired of any tracks during the regular levels, and each boss has its own unique and awesome track that fits the action on screen.

Personal Anecdote: PUMP UP THE VOLUME

I could see a huge difference in Meesh’s level of engagement depending on if the music was turned up or not. She actually had some issues staying engaged for a decent length of time early on when I kept the music at a more reasonable volume. Furthermore, despite the fact that she had become fairly adept at using a controller, she would play fairly conservatively and generally stick to only 1 or 2 stations.

This all changed once I turned up the dial. With the music bumping she maintained much better focus. It also seemed to inspire her to play a more aggressive play style that had her bouncing all over the ship.

As a more seasoned gamer who tends to be more focused on the mechanical aspects of a game, I sometimes forget how (literally) game-changing an excellent soundtrack can be. While the game would still be good, I honestly don’t think Lovers would be a true Gateway Game if the audio wasn’t so splendid. After-all, embedding ourselves in the hail of techno and gunfire was a key component of this Gateway Games’ success.

Please, I implore that you put away your personal Podcasts and Playlists for this title. The sound is an integral part of the experience, and removing it from the equation is doing everybody involved a disservice.

Challenges and Pitfalls

While Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime excels in a number of areas, that doesn’t mean you won’t run into some challenges along the way.

Dead End Job

Learning how and when to move around the ship takes time, especially for newer players. This is further complicated by the fact that Lovers is a true co-op game that required a great deal of coordination between players to be successful. This is especially true when you only have two players.

For example, it is not uncommon for one player, usually a more seasoned gamer, to essentially become the designated pilot. While this may seem like a great deal for other player, in a two player setup the second player is often needed on the shields to deflect gunfire coming from the alien swarm.

This might be a bit of a drag for the newer player. Here they are looking to show off their gaming chops, and instead they are stuck as the shield squire playing second fiddle to the pilot advancing the game. Fortunately there are a couple of ways around this.

The first is to let the newer player take the helm, and invest the time required to become a proficient pilot. However, this may or may not work on the standard difficulty. As mentioned before the game is decently difficult, so you might find yourself failing early on while the junior pilot finds their space legs.

If the newer player fails to beat a level on two consecutive attempts and still wants to fly, there is no shame in lowering the difficulty for a bit. Most of the time new pilots take more damage hitting walls than they do taking enemy fire. Lowering the difficulty will mitigate that damage, and give the new player a chance to get used to managing the momentum of the ship and avoiding the games various obstacles.

Another great approach is to relinquish control of the ship once you’ve completed a level with a double power gem boosted engine installed. I find the superior mobility of the double power gem is both more fun to fly, and a great choice for newbies because they don’t get distracted by some of the more offense oriented engine upgrades. While incinerating enemies with a power/beam engine is a lot of fun, it often results in even experienced pilots needlessly running into walls.

If your player doesn’t enjoy piloting, then you need to really impress on them the importance of the shield station. While some people might understand its importance right away, others might need a more dramatic demonstration to develop their understanding.

Typically the shortest path to this understanding is telling them that the two of you can try a level without using the shield and see how it goes. In my experience unless both players are love-force-gun-kata experts this will almost always result in your ship being summarily destroyed. After one or two attempts players usually figure out that good shield play is actually an essential part of the game, and will buy into the importance of manning that station.

Personal Anecdote: We Are All Essential Cogs In The Machine

It took Meesh some time to wrap her head around the importance of each station. We spent more of the game than I care to admit with Meesh on shields while I manned the engines. While this was the optimal way for 2 people to play in many situations, it resulted in her(rightfully) getting pretty bored at times. At least initially.

Early on she was somewhat demoralized by the fact that she was “only” using the shields. She felt that she wasn’t contributing enough, and felt like she was being carried through the game. I had her take the wheel a few times, but she got frustrated pretty quickly because knowing when and where to fly is actually fairly challenging at first. I also tried explaining to her how essential the shield station was, but it took a different approach to make that message hit home.

What really changed her perspective was playing a level where we agreed to not touch the shield at all. This opened her up to merrily bounce between the various weapon systems, and blast baddies away at will. However, this ultimately gave her a much more positive outlook on manning the shield station, because within 5 minutes of starting the level unchecked enemy gunfire cause our ship to burst into a ball of flame.

When that happened she realized that I truly could not beat the game without her. She started to recognize that being stuck on the shields 50% of the time wasn’t a deficiency of hers, it was simply the way the game was played.

Over time we learned how to configure our ship in a way the complemented our personal play-styles. These adjustments resulted in more opportunities for both of us to take the offensive. Once Meesh was able to fluidly move throughout the ship, her enjoyment of the title increased immensely.

Furthermore, as your team chemistry and understanding of the mechanics improves you’ll find more opportunities to man the various stations. For example one common tactic is to park the ship in a corner, move the shield to an advantageous spot, and have both members open fire on the oncoming horde.

Lost In Space

In the event that your newbie does take a liking to piloting, navigation might be a challenge you encounter.

While the level maps themselves aren’t overly complicated, the fact that you can’t view the entire map without leaving your station can be a bit disorienting. Even experienced players might find themselves bumping up against the boundary of the map, only to realize that they overshot the area they meant to fly towards.

In this case, the best remedy to the issue is to simply make sure you check the map often. Even better, tell the player piloting the ship to simply call out when they need to see the map. This will allow them to stay focused on flying, while you serve as their co-pilot fetching the map and bringing them coffee. This approach has the added of bonus of making the player truly feel like they are(both literally and figuratively) in the driver’s seat, which will help keep them engaged long term.

If you are lucky, this behavior might carry over to real life, and they’ll finally start taking turns driving the car downtown giving you a break every once in a while.

However, in my experience that is just wishful thinking.

Final Thoughts

Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime is a phenomenal way to get even a day 0 player into gaming, especially when playing with 3 or 4 players. The clever gameplay combined with the beautiful visuals and amazing soundtrack create a spectacle that can be enjoyed by just about anyone.

This is one of those gaming experiences that really sticks with you and leaves you wanting more. Fortunately, once you complete the main game you can unlock a variety of Gumball Variant spaceships, each with their own unique quirks and challenges! To top it all off, the game itself is pretty cheap(usually around $15 or less) and widely available.

I’d say that is a small price to pay to fill your life with SO MUCH LOVE!


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