Review | 10/4/2017 at 12:00 PM

Lichtspeer: Double Speer Edition Co-Op Review

Prepare for a good lichting

Lichthund’s arcade-style spear thrower, Lichtspeer, made its debut on PC and the PlayStation 4 a little over a year ago. It was a single-player only affair that had you hurl “speers” of “licht” at Hipster Ice Giants, Viking Penguins, and more. A couple weeks ago, Lichthund brought the title over to the Switch as Lichtspeer: Double Speer Edition and added a feature we’re definitely into: two player co-op.

Here’s the good news, the entire gameplay can pretty much be summed in one sentence: your hero stands in place and throws the eponymous lichtspeers at all the enemies that come at you from the other side of the screen (or sometimes both sides). If they reach you, you lose, but you can restart right away with the press of a button so you can get back into the thick of it. There are a total of 13 levels you can play, including a handful of levels that culminate in a boss fight, and each level is further divided into 5 “stages.” Each stage pits you against a set number of enemies that come at you in a set pattern. Beat all the enemies and you progress to the next stage. It may not seem like much, but it is strangely addicting. After all, people spent thousands of dollars playing Missile Command back in the arcade heyday, and the idea here isn’t too far off from that.

Where the skill of all this comes into play is how you stop those approaching foes. Holding down “A” shows you a short dotted line representing the speer’s initial trajectory when it leaves your hand. You have to fill in the rest of that arc and mentally calculate where it will land and whether it will hit the enemy or not. Landing a body shot on most foes is pretty easy, but getting a headshot, which usually results in an instant kill, is much more desirable and tougher to do. There’s an added incentive for scoring all those headshots, too, as you’ll get a higher score at the end of the level.

That score turns into Licht Standard Denomination (or LSD) that can be spent at the in-game shop in between levels to buy and upgrade special abilities. These abilities range from the offensive, like transforming your speer into a “lichthammer” that causes an AoE explosion when it hits something, to the defensive, i.e., summoning a column of “pure licht” that acts as a good last-minute “oh no” move when that zombie you didn’t notice until now is about to eat your brains. All of these moves have an initial purchase cost to unlock, and can be further upgraded to reduce cooldown time or increasing their effectiveness, such as the hammer having a bigger explosion. There are three categories that these abilities fall under - “Attack,” “Uber,” and “Defense” - and you can only have one ability from each category equipped at any given time.

You are free to replay levels and try and beat your old score as much as you want, and there’s definitely a “top of the leaderboard” mentality to learning the enemy patterns for a given level and knowing when to throw speers to maximize the points gained. However, if you’re more interested in just hopping in, playing a level or two, and then coming back again later, it’s well-suited for that, too. There’s no overarching story or save system that limits when you can record progress, so you’re free to spend as much or as little time as you want during a play session. All of this is true for the PC and PlayStation 4 versions of the game as it is for the Switch, but the real appeal here is the new couch co-op mode, which is unique/exclusive to the Switch version only.

As with so many co-op titles that are starting to make their way onto Nintendo’s latest console, it’s hard to talk about Lichtspeer: Double Speer Edition’s co-op experience without also quickly mentioning how well it works thanks to the core concept of the Switch itself, i.e., a console you take anywhere. This is not an extremely in-depth or complicated title. While there is a measure of skill involved in calculating the optimal speer throw to get headshots and when to use special abilities to get a higher score, the game itself never feels like it’s unfairly balanced or impenetrable unless you’re a “pro.” All of this plays very well into the fact that you could take your Switch over to a friend’s, relative’s, or partner’s place, and get in a few quick, fun speer throwing sessions. The simple controls work well with the Joy-Cons so you don’t need to worry about picking up a Pro Controller or anything else; just flip out the Switch’s kickstand, pop off the Joy-Cons, and you’re ready to roll. I mention all of this only because if this co-op mode comes to the PC or PlayStation 4 versions, it will still be fun, but limited by the non-portability of those platforms.

All of that being said, the co-op itself is just as fun and challenging as the single-player. The second player takes control of “das Wunder Hund” and aids the other player by hurling speers of their own. While the first player’s position may shift and change during the course of a level (one stage they are at the bottom left corner of the screen, the next stage they are in the top left corner), the second player always seems to about a third of the way up from the bottom on the left-hand side. While the primary player has multiple special abilities that can be upgraded and changed, the Wunder Hund player only has one extremely strong special ability that is immutable. As the second player lands headshots, their special meter will fill (represented by a dog icon at the top of the screen). Once the special meter is filled, they can press “ZL” to unleash a laser beam that lasts for a couple seconds, which is more than enough time to clear out a screen of foes. Wunder Hund is a good, good doggo.

Bringing in a second player doesn’t mean you’re on “easy mode,” though. The number of enemies that you’ll face and their patterns are all changed from the single-player mode. My co-op partner and I had to deal with shield-bearing enemies (“das Red Baron”) that could only be killed with headshots, which I encountered much later on when playing the game single-player. So, even if one person has played through every level before by their lonesome, things are different with a co-op buddy. Once you do manage to work your way through every level, there’s a New Game+ mode you can tackle that allows the first player to keep all their upgrades/ability unlocks, but further changes up the enemy patterns. There’s also the “Rage Quit” mode if you really want to bring an end to your relationship.

What I found most interesting about playing Lichtspeer cooperatively is that it changed the way I played. When playing alone, I was constantly scanning the edge of the screen to try and detect even the slightest bit of movement that would suggest an enemy was coming. A large horde of foes suddenly bearing down on me resulted in more frantic playing, and often meant just hurling speers as quickly as possible to avoid defeat. With a co-op buddy by my side, everything became a bit more strategic. Spamming speer throws results in the “licht gods” becoming angry with you and temporarily preventing you from throwing any speers, so you and your co-op buddy can’t just sit there and become the equivalent of speer miniguns. Additionally, only player one can be killed by enemy attacks, thus the priority becomes to protect them at all costs. Thus, my co-op buddy and I divided the screen in half. I took all the long throws and she would target anything that slipped past me and got closer. When airborne enemies got into the mix, she would focus on those while I targeted ground-based foes. This slight shift in how I played meant that I started prioritizing different enemies, like the shielded Red Barons or the Warlocks, while ignoring others knowing she would handle them. It was, for me, a more enjoyable way to play.

I approached Lichtspeer without expecting much, but ended my time with it surprised by just how good it feels when you’re playing it. There’s a certain kind of beauty and artistry in pulling off simple gameplay mechanics well, and I feel that the team at Lichthund have, for the most part, done just that. The new co-op mode for Lichtspeer: Double Speer Edition only serves to further highlight that point as they don’t just opt for “same stuff, but now with a buddy.” The slight changes in enemy types and patterns adds a new level of challenge, and the way you approach that challenge can change as well with a buddy by your side. Lichtspeer comfortably fits into that niche labeled “fun couch co-op games to be enjoyed anywhere, any time.”