Review by Adam Asunder
With AAA games starting to treat couch co-op like a ginger step-child - one that once ate the contents of an ashtray for a dare - it's heartening(!) to see indie games picking up the baton and taking the act of playing with a real, living, breathing person (not that ashtray consuming weirdo though) to new and interesting places.
In this case the developers Asteroid Base have imagined what it would be like to be blissed out on Ecstasy while trying to pilot a bubblegum version of the Starship Enterprise. The name of the game here couldn't be more apt; you and a loved one - or at least someone you can stand - flail around a 2D space in what's akin to a bullet hell shooter whilst dealing with the slight inconvenience of having to run to each of the ships stations, each controlling a different offensive and defensive capability.
After a brief cutscene where your heart is literally broken and a tutorial in which you get acclimatised to the controls you're chucked in. Just the two of you in a pink tub, strewn with ladders and terminals to pick your way through the cosmos trying to liberate space rabbits that will open up the end of stage portal and also level up your ship.
Things escalate quickly.
Things start off restrained until you're being attacked from all sides and you have to determine where best to deploy your pilots to ward off the insanity. This will test your friendship or your relationship. I would do my usual blaming my partner for mistakes I would make twenty times over, she would take the helm and get lost instantly (sounds just like a regular outing).
It's frenetic. One minute you're working in perfect harmony as you pilot the ship around whilst your significant other uses the upgradeable shield to reflect incoming fire and you, like, feel really cool; like one of those good looking couples that you see on aspirational tv programmes or adverts. However, this game is a cruel mistress - the antithesis of Cilla Black - stirring the pot while perusing Amazon for suitable funeral attire. No wedding hat for this late matchmaker of dubious singing ability.
Your ship becomes the epicentre of a particularly bad hurricane (or typhoon) of utter destruction. I think even Superman's Dad would think twice about strolling in to futilely save his dog (you can have one as your AI buddy if you end up divorced) to prove a stupid philosophical point to his son. You'll find you'll both panic and end up queuing for the gun turret at 9 O'clock when 3 O'Clock is on fire and demon fish are chewing on 6 O'clock. You'll fire your super cannon that rotates around your ship at just the right angle as to miss everything then run out of steam as it gets round to the hellspawn scratching at your helm or simply walking to a terminal to forget why you're there.
If I'm painting the game in a bad light then don't let our lack of teamwork put you off. The concept is sound; it's hellish and it wants to break you but mechanically it's coherent and consistent.
The controls are simple and intuitive so it's always you that's to blame for falling about your new home like a drunken cosmonaut due to the wolves at your space door. There is definite potential here for a great synergy, however it's only going to be the dedicated that witness it. For me and my missus, we stopped before I ended up homeless and she ended up buried with our pets in the garden. The visiting badger would be pleased to have something more substantial to dig up at least. Got to do your bit in the face of this cull after all.
In the end I resorted to single player for the purposes of seeing enough to give you my view. I haven't seen the other a half since. Here the game runs into a few problems. In place of your ex-partner you have a faithful dog or cat (I really think they're trying to tell us something) who do as good a job as you could hope of them. You can direct them to terminals you want 'manned' quickly and easily and they do have a pretty good grasp of the mechanics. However you're now thinking for two roles at any one time which gets hard quick. It's certainly easier going than a team that just doesn't work (bitch) but you never feel you're going to achieve the harmony a good relationship can. They're really trying to tell us something here.
They won't pilot the ship which is understandable (and illegal) but they won't shoot explosive crates dotted around either that only serve to damage your ship. This can make some levels extremely difficult to navigate when under pressure. Still, I bet my stupid ex wouldn't have shot them either. Sadly, what the game is asking of you and your faithful cat is just that little bit too complex. At least for this aging, dating site populating sad sack. The lack of checkpoints too ensures that you will get frustrated and give up quickly. Your ships integrity can quickly perish and health powerups are few and far between.
So lets say that you have a great team, you're sexy Kirk and stoical Spock (my facesake!). You should consider how you upgrade which is also a factor into your success. As well as lunar rabbits which fill a bar that upgrades your ship (carrot chasing) you'll find presents that give you gems that will give most of your terminals a new power or attribute. These gems are perishable, and will get taken away after each areas boss whereas the rabbit enabled upgrades are forever and cross ship applicable.
The gems are embued with a certain element which may or may not give you some idea of how they work. You may upgrade your super cannon with a power gem or turn your thruster into a mine dispenser
with a metal gem which gives the pilot some offensive capability. She can't moan when she's forced to drive again basically, the whore. Your ship ends up becoming a horrifying pink maelstrom of destruction pretty quickly but you do have to think about how you upgrade carefully as having four flails attached to your ship may be comedy gold but Octodad is hard to complete for a reason, and he doesn't spend most of his time warding off the denisons of hell.
Things get even more interesting when you can apply two gems at once to terminals through rabbit love. You'll want to save as many rabbits as you can past the required five to boost your xp gains as good upgrading really governs how successful you are in further missions. Luckily when your gems are taken away after the standard end of area boss fight (well as standard as a fight with a space bear gets) the next act doesn't turn the screw until you've got accustomed to the theme and grabbed some gems.
Then it's back to what it does best: setting the spin cycle to murderous and chucking in a few loose coins, rusty nails and your divorce papers.
So would I recommend it? Yes, with caveats. Go in expecting to work for your fun and you'll receive it in kind. It's a unique, compelling experience; a great idea implemented well with a lovely aesthetic -the soundtrack in particular is stunning.
I'm just not convinced the developers have mine or my ex-partner's best interests at heart and with that flail they're definitely trolling.
4/5 stars if playing in co-op
3/5 if your wife is now shacked up with Tony.