Review: Degrees of Separation
People are often shocked to learn that I’m a gamer. Their follow up question without fail is asking if my husband is into that sort of thing too, which always baffles me because how could I be with someone who doesn’t share the same passion? We love gaming together, so much so that when Red Dead Redemption 2 came out we set up our televisions and PlayStations to be in the same room so we could play side by side during the single player Story Mode. And while playing the same game at the same time on separate consoles is fun, we’re always looking for a couch co-op to really play together. It was no surprise that when I saw Degrees of Separation I knew it was one we had to try.
Degrees of Separation developed by Moondrop is a frost-bound journey that warmed my heart. This 2D puzzle platformer follows the story of Ember and Rime, two powerful protagonists from worlds apart. Ember is from a sunny and vibrant place and wakes to find a chill in the air, a climate that is foreign to her land. Meanwhile, in his own realm, Rime finds that his frozen world has been altered with new paths and chasms formed from melting ice. Sensing something is wrong in each of their worlds, Ember and Rime set out to discover what is happening to their lands. Eventually the two reach a bridge where their paths cross, forever changing their lives. When Ember and Rime first encounter one another it’s love at first site, but between them stands a barrier that prohibits them from touching each other. It’s your classic tale of star-crossed lovers like Romeo and Juliet or Rogue from X-Men and literally any guy she’s ever wanted to touch. Together Ember and Rime must navigate various worlds, solve puzzles, and find a way to break the barrier between them.
A game’s narrative has always been the most important factor for me. You could have an amazing narrative and terrible game mechanics and you’d still have me on the hook, eager to know what happens in the end…Must be the Story Producer side of me. But Degrees of Separation is the first game in a long time where the visuals and game mechanics outweighed the story. To be honest, even with captions I began to lose track of the narrative because I was so intrigued with what was happening on the screen.
The barrier between Ember and Rime splits the screen in half, highlighting each of their elemental abilities. Ember possess the ability to manipulate heat causing her side of the barrier to appear bright with crisp Autumn colors and crystal clear waters. Rime has the ability to manipulate the cold, allowing his side of the barrier to be a beautiful frozen tundra. It’s visually stunning to see how the two forces oppose one another and alter the landscape as the pair progress through the worlds.
The gameplay is focused on brains over brawn. There are no threats or boss battles, allowing players to concentrate on solving puzzles without risk of failure. In fact, Ember can walk and breathe freely underwater so instances of accidentally falling from an elevated ledge and drowning is never an issue. The puzzles themselves range in difficulty and usually involve the use of platforms and pulley devices. Working together Rime and Ember assist each other to conquer each puzzle and collect a scarf that allows them passage into a new realm. Rime can freeze blasting geysers to allow Ember the ability to collect a scarf, while Ember can melt snow or ice blocking Rime’s path. Along the way the duo will encounter items that can alter the makeup of their powers. For example, a magical staff allows them to control the barrier between them, turning it into a solid force that they can use to walk on and gain elevation in areas where scarves or platforms are out of reach.
A magnificent and seemingly empty castle is the main hub to the game. Players must explore the castle to locate various doors that open to diverse worlds. Each door is locked and can only be opened when players collect enough scarves from the puzzles they solve. There is no map, which can make the castle and the worlds it contains feel endless. However, a fast travel system in the castle and in each world makes it feel a little more connected and manageable. Small pillars are located throughout that act as Save Points and allow you to transform into a butterfly and follow a linear path backwards or forwards to your desired location. While it is undoubtedly faster than walking the whole way it isn’t exactly as fast what fast travel would imply. Players are forced to take a slight pause at each marker before continuing on their linear path instead of just having the ability to select a point anywhere in the realm or castle and automatically be sent to that location.
Degrees of Separation can be played as a co-op or in single player mode, however I highly recommend you play with a friend or loved one. The story is about coming together so playing with someone, especially someone special, only enhances the experience. But beyond that – it’s an enormous pain in the ass to play single player. I was completely taken out of the experience when I attempted this journey solo. You’re forced to toggle between the characters and while you can call to a character to follow you it doesn’t always register. I also never got comfortable with the controls to toggle between characters and it started to feel more like a chore instead of an experience.
That being said, like any co-op this game puts your friendship or relationship to the test. Some puzzles are easier than others but the ones that are more difficult are a good way to find out how good your communication skills are with one another. When playing with my husband we fell into a rhythm letting each person have a chance at taking the lead. Some puzzles Ember is meant to be the one to get the scarf while other puzzles it will be up to Rime. The best way to get through the puzzles is to talk it out and if all else fails just try a bunch of different things until something sticks.
Degrees of Separation was an enjoyable and relaxing co-op experience. I never understood why Ember and Rime fell in love so hard so fast. There’s no dialogue between the two which made it difficult for me to root for a relationship that I felt was really only surface level. But I also didn’t mind that I couldn’t track their relationship. For me this game is all about the visual experience and the problem solving. Harnessing powers, locating items that enable new talents, and interacting with the environment made for a wonderful date night experience.
Degrees of Separation is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam.
Check out the trailer below:
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