Title: Degrees of Separation
Developer: Moondrop Studios
Release Date: February 14, 2019
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Modus Games
Genre: Puzzle Adventure
I do enjoy me a nice puzzle game every now and then, but I never found myself getting too into the new trend of co-op puzzle games. The cooperation is unnerving to think about and I know the anxiety of staring at a screen for 30 minutes trying to figure out a puzzle, so I couldn’t imagine doing that with someone else in the world.
With that said, here I was playing Moondrop Studios new co-op puzzle game Degrees of Separation with a partner and although my fears came to life a handful of times, it never stopped the game from being a fairly good time. Through the game’s charming way of storytelling and beautiful world, I felt a little at peace even though I was I knew the possibility of more difficult puzzles appearing.
Degrees of Separation introducing an interesting concept of two character Ember and Ryme who are drawn to each other, but can’t interact due to their elemental differences. The next best thing for them to do is explore a mysterious castle and find a way for them to be able to embrace. From there the story takes off as each scene is narrated and explained in some clever ways as if I was witnessing a true fairytale playing out before my eyes.
In terms of the story, the game requires players to attach themselves to the character’s struggle and desire to interact with one another. Throughout the game, it’s made so clear just to what lengths these characters would go to express their love and it’s quite moving in that regard. It’s not only about completing puzzles to progress the game, instead, it also became a game where I completed puzzles to see these two come together. I loved the theme of this love story as it’s one of the biggest reasons that I couldn’t stop playing.
As mentioned, Ember and Ryme embody two different elements, fire and ice, respectively. Because of this, they can’t interact and must travel to different worlds collecting scarves in hopes that doing so will allow them to touch. The developers use this dynamic throughout each level as the screen is split between fire and ice worlds. Each character also interacts with the world differently such as Ember being able to go underwater, but Ryme walks over it after turning it into ice. Keeping this in mind, players will be able to use trial and error ways of approaching puzzles to use the character’s abilities in a way that will help them obtain a scarf.
Each world is accessed in the castle through doors that are unlocked after a certain number of scarves are obtained. The interesting thing about Degrees of Separation is that it’s not completely necessary to obtain all the scarves, with that said you might want to in order to see what happens after they are all collected, but the game allows you to simply pass them up if the puzzle is too difficult. Through this design, the developers were able to combine a wide variety of difficulty in their puzzle design. Sure, you might come to a puzzle that you can’t figure out, but the next one will be slightly less difficult and make you feel smart again. I enjoyed this balance and thought it was a clever way to keep the player always moving forward, even if they couldn’t figure out the puzzle.
Each level has a different gimmick that introduces new puzzle designs. These gimmicks revolve around using the separation of the characters such as giving them the ability to free their border into a bridge or create an explosion when they get too close. Essentially, this means that throughout the game you’ll need to learn new skills during each level which kept the game feeling fresh for me as I had to continually try new things.
I found each level to be beautiful. The developers went out of their way to ensure that both the fire and ice versions of the stage were gorgeous. Similarly, there are moments that the two characters will witness a beautiful scene together such as a meteor shower that motivated me to see them through this adventure. With that said, one issue with the level design is how the patch will branch off to different areas. Although the developers make it easy to backtrack, I often found that I forgot about a path or just didn’t see it which meant that I would miss scarves and needed to go through the level again to find it. Thankfully, there is a fast travel option for the player to travel to different checkpoints, but I would have preferred a warp option to save on time.
Degrees of Separation does excellent in the sound department and, along with the narration, complements this beautiful world. Character animations can look a little strange at times and the jumping does feel a bit floaty, but that doesn’t seem to matter after I witnessed some emotionally powerful scenes fueled by the trials that the two characters go through.
At its core, Degrees of Separation is a 2 player game and in my opinion best experienced in that way. Local multiplayer is currently the only option available which means you’ll need to invite over an irl friend, but hey it’s for a good reason. Tackling the puzzles together with a friend is exactly what you’d expect, passive aggressive comments and saying, “Give me the controller so I can do it”. What’s good about the game’s design is that players don’t have to take on every puzzle and they can even separate away from each other, but don’t expect to take on puzzles alone. The single-player mode allows the player to control both characters and it offers a decent experience, but I think seeing the two characters moving on screen at once provides a more powerful experience.
Degrees of Separation is a well-balanced co-op puzzle game that will test the skills of players throughout its many puzzles. Through the game’s features of adding new gimmicks to levels, the game rarely feels repetitive or gets boring. The hope that these characters find love at the end of the journey is reason enough to see them through until the end, but the developers poured a lot of thought into how these puzzles were created and it shows.
The romance found in Degrees of Separation provides a great way to motivate the player to stick around and bang their heads around the more difficult puzzles. Working together with a friend and figuring out a puzzle you’ve been staring at for a long time turns into some great moments of teamwork. I completely enjoyed my time learning about Ember and Ryme and following their journey for love. Degrees of Separation is a true fairytale that should be experienced by all fans of this genre and those willing to give co-op puzzle games a try.
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