by Marko Susimetsä
reviewed on PC
Pretty couch co-op
The first thing that strikes you in Degrees of Separation is the visual beauty. While it is nowhere near the magnificence of the Trine series, it is still something that attracts you to try the game out. And the similarities don’t end there - this is also a game where you team up and try to use the skills of the two characters to solve problems and puzzles that come your way. But Degrees of Separation is a game in its own right and not meant to be compared to other games, so let’s get into the meat of it.
Separated by temperature
The two protagonists of the game, Ember and Rime, are souls separated by their elements. One lives in warmth and sunshine while the other encompasses cold and ice. In an over-dramatically delivered prologue, the protagonists become aware of each other and meet on a bridge, only to realize that there is an unbreachable barrier between them - that of the meeting point between cold and warm. This line is always between them, either warming up the environment, or freezing it. Where one can swim, the other will run on ice.
In order to get the puzzle-solving going, the characters are tasked to run through levels of varying difficulties, solve puzzles etc. in order to find a way to finally embrace each other. Quite how the characters realise this need is never really explained, but, the long and short of it is that they must take part in a side-scrolling adventure, while sometimes listening to over-dramatized narration coming out of nowhere.
Puzzles and Frustration
The puzzles take advantage of this separation. For example, there are paper balloons that lift up when they warm up, raising a platform and allowing you to move around the landscape - or places where Rime needs to build a snowball to climb up and figure out a way to bring Ember (who would melt the snow) up as well. There’s also a level where the characters cannot approach each other without causing an explosion that throws them away from each other - and this leads to puzzles where you have to use the explosions to keep the other character in the air while carefully positioning yourselves in order to toss the other character in the right direction. The exercise is not made easier by the stiff animations of the characters. This may quickly become frustrating because, naturally, there will be obstacles that you have to get around at the same time.
I played the game with my daughter, who is 10 at the moment, and this has previously been problematic with certain types of co-op titles that are designed for players of equal skill level, rather than parent-child pairs. The same happened with Degrees of Separation. We could often figure out the way to solve a puzzle, but achieving it was another matter entirely when one of the players (and in some cases both of them) got frustrated after a handful of failed attempts. Pixel-exact positioning of the characters in order to raise or lower a certain platform is not really that fun.
Let the environment and game designers be your enemies
Degrees of Separation is a game that both entertains and frustrates. On the positive side, I loved the decision not to throw in enemies and base the gameplay wholly on cooperative puzzle solving. On the other hand, I think the designers went a bit too far with the difficulty of the puzzles and failed to explain the objectives of the game (why we need to gather quite so many scarves?). Also, a bit more attention might have been given to training the players the controls for various actions. We were both mystified by the strange shimmering that a certain button press caused that did not seem to have any purpose.
Overall, I can see the game appealing to puzzle-loving gamers of about equal level or experience and ability - perhaps even romantically involved couples, as the developers suggest. For gamers looking for a bit more casual fun, some other game might be a better choice.
Pretty graphics, great concept
Stiffish animations, erratic difficulty