The Bottom Line: Charming characters, engaging dialogue, and captivating visual design make this a bullet-hell game worth playing.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed when dealing with people? Do you enjoy heartwarming stories with eccentric characters? And are you excited by the thought of being dropped headfirst into torrent of heart-shaped bullets? If so, then Personal Space is the indie you’ve been waiting for.
Bubble Boy, Bubble Girl
Personal Space is a game about maintaining your – you guessed it – personal space. It’s a bullet hell in which you have to dodge everything coming at you. Enemies include smooching teenagers who blow deadly kisses, cross-tossing nuns, mask-wearing weirdos, and a full cast of other peculiar people who are all eager to rub shoulders with you.
While you completely lack offensive firepower, you do have one super-charged defensive ability: At any time you can activate your personal space. This creates a bubble around your character that slows everything within it. Enemies are nearly stopped in their tracks, and projectiles hang in the air before quickly turning to harmless dust. This gives you a chance to reposition and find a safer corner of the play area. You have to act quickly, though, because your personal space will only last so long before petering out.
The goal of each level is to survive until time runs out. The game also features roguelite elements – every time you play you’ll encounter a different assortment of levels, each with their own enemies and obstacles. After every three levels you’re given a chance to choose one of many upgrades. The upgrades and their descriptions are a real treat. Who knew drinking diet soda and wearing a stinky sock could confer such amazing powers?
Nun More Charming
But enough about the bullet hell and roguelite mechanics. The real stars of the show in Personal Space are the characters. After surviving a set of levels you get to have a friendly chat with a member of the game’s cast, and these conversations are what set the game apart.
Each of the characters represents a different aspect of how we handle presenting ourselves to others. One character lets it all hang low, choosing to be himself at all times without regard for how he’s perceived by society. Another wraps herself up in her work, using her position as her primary bearing for how she interacts with others. And another character hides away all day, too afraid to let anyone get any close, lest he hurt them emotionally or be hurt himself.
The conversations you have are quite simple, and frankly rather one sided, with your choices having limited or no impact. But as is the case with any good story, when reading their dialogues I felt like I was having a friendly, insightful conversation with their creator. Relationships are hard, and for many of us – especially those among us who tend to overthink everything – it can be difficult to know which foot to put forward in a given social setting. Put the wrong foot forward and it’s liable to end up in your mouth, after all.
The biggest disappointment for me, then, was that each subsequent playthrough presented me with the same story beats as my first. While you can choose different responses, as near as I could tell your choices have little to no impact. I don’t expect a little indie game to have the depth of Mass Effect or Disco Elysium, but a little more variety in the conversations would’ve gone a long way. (Branching paths, like the ones in Fight’N Rage, would feel right at home here.)
So, what are you waiting for? If you have a spare moment on a lazy Saturday, you have no reason not to download Personal Space and see what the hubbub is all about. Did I mention it’s free? And be sure to say “hi” to the nun for me – her earnestness made her my favorite.