Little Space Duo
Lucy blinked as she stood up. Where was she? This didn't look like her bedroom. In fact, she didn't remember going to bed. She looked about in confusion. Instead of her bedroom furniture, she could see endless metal corridors filled with boxes and strange electronic devices. Then she saw the yellow sphere floating in front of her, and it told her what had happened. She was on a spaceship, and the computer in charge was acting strangely. It had gone against its programming by kidnapping Lucy and needed to be repaired. In order to get home, she would need to assist her new companion (whom she named Sunny) in fixing it - for Sunny had no hands, and could not operate the controls alone.
Little Space Duo is a puzzle platformer in which you control Lucy and Sunny in a series of puzzles, the aim in each being to open and reach the exit door for the next level. This is done by operating a number of door switches throughout the level. You can control both characters together, or split them up and switch between them - Sunny can fly and is able to operate door switches and save points, but cannot operate the switches that will open the exit door and cannot work the various lifts that allow Lucy to traverse the ship. To solve each level you need to figure out how to use the two characters in tandem. Things are complicated by the robot drones that patrol the ship - while they mean no harm, they consider Lucy to be cargo and will return her to storage if they capture her.
You can operate the duo by mouse or keyboard, though I found the mouse controls difficult to work with and soon switched to keyboard. Either way, they are quite straightforward - you can move left/right or up/down (though Lucy can only do the latter on lifts) and you can operate controls. Another key switches between the two characters, and another switches between moving both together or just one (though you can only return to joint movement if they are sufficiently close together). Lucy can operate lifts - some are automatic and triggered by her weight, but others can be directed up and down as required - and operate the exit door switches, but both characters can use save points and regular door switches. Sunny can also carry Lucy safely down from ledges, but lacks the power to carry her up anywhere.
Every five levels or so things get a little different - Lucy and Sunny use a vehicle and drive from one point to another! This is a top-down view on what looks rather like a warehouse, and you need to ensure that the various robots patrolling about don't spot you as you pass them. One neat touch here is that, if you are spotted, the cargo drone that spots you will give chase! Lose them round a few corners and they return to a standard patrol.
There has clearly been some effort made on the graphics. Lucy in particular is well rendered and moves quite realistically. Doors are colour coded, so you know which are operated by which switches - and, in a fairly unusual consideration for the colour-blind, there's an option to label these colours! Aside from our heroes, the main movement in the game comes from the robot drones moving endlessly round the ship, occasionally setting off lifts. Both move smoothly. The game makes no attempt to hide its platform nature, however - each level is divided into set "floors" and lifts can only stop at those points. The spaceship is rather nicely laid out but I found it rather too neat for my liking. Everywhere looked much the same to me and I would have liked a little more background variation.
There are sound effects for most of the game's features - switches, lifts, doors, etc - and some dramatic stings should you succeed or Lucy be captured, but the background music is a little more disappointing - there's very little of it. The unusual style also meant that, at first, I thought things were happening in the level that turned out to be sound effects in the backing track! A few more tunes would not have gone amiss.
It takes a little while to get used to the controls in Little Space Duo. As I said earlier, I found the mouse controls hideous - poor Sunny must have had one heck of a headache after a few levels of mouse piloting, as I ended up hitting the walls and ceiling a lot! The mouse option also lacked fine control, so getting Lucy to line up on lifts was tricky at best, and as timing is frequently important in this game it failed me on many attempts. With keyboard, it all becomes much better, though getting the timing right can still be very difficult (especially when one needs to coordinate both characters at once). Save points are very flexible, however, and the simple interface and ingame tutorial make it very easy to learn.
There are forty levels to play through, which will actually take a little while - some of those puzzles are quite tricky to get the hang of. Fortunately your progress is automatically saved (including any save point you use) so you can always return to where you left off. You can only have one saved game at a time, but multiple profiles are supported - and you can replay any level you've previously beaten. One draw to repeat previous levels is the skill point option - beat a level quickly and/or without using any save points and you'll earn more skill points. There's also a second play method in which two players work together, each controlling one of the two characters, which may prove easier - or harder!
While a beautifully produced game, Little Space Duo suffered for me in the playability department. A lot of the puzzles are dependent on timing - occasionally rather fine. The controls take a little getting used to and one needs to be quite precise with lifts and switches. The ingame music is somewhat repetitive and could use some variety. The puzzles are unlocked one at a time, so if you're stuck you can't simply try a different one. A helpful guide pops up when you discover a new robot, but it would be nice if the game was paused when it did so! All these niggles aside, this is a sweet and well themed game. It makes a welcome change for the principle enemies not to be evil and for no blood (or oil!) to be spilled, though I fear children Lucy's age would struggle with the fine control required for some of the puzzles and feel this game is better targeted at a slightly older audience.
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