Degrees of Separation is a cute, slightly challenging platformer best experienced with a loved one. Its charm lies in its co-op puzzles that sometimes overshadow the touching narrative.
They say opposites attract. In Degrees of Separation, they can also freeze water, generate explosions, and even create magical bridges. But best of all, they can solve intricate co-op puzzles together.
Degrees of Separation is an indie co-op puzzler where two characters, one of fire and one of ice, explore a series of beautiful storybook worlds and collect scarves. Why they collect all these scarves, I’m not exactly sure, but it leads to a challenging journey across an emotional narrative.
Not Quite Touching
Ember and Rime come from two different worlds, quite literally. Ember is from a realm of sunshine and warmth, and Rime lives in a kingdom of eternal winter. When the two meet for the very first time, a barrier forms between them, preventing them from touching each other. But they still quickly fall for each other; again, quite literally. When they land in a new, unfamiliar kingdom, they come across a castle with doorways that lead to new and strange places.
When you start exploring the different worlds and levels that branch out of the castle, you begin to discover another tale, layered on top of the two character’s love story. To tell you the truth, I’m not quite sure what the second story was about, but it has something to do with a lost king, a dragon and lots of scarves.
One of the reasons I don’t really remember the game’s story is because you never feel like an active participant in it. You and your partner walk ever-forward, stopping to solve a puzzle every few steps, while a narrator reads the story at you. Nothing you do has any effect on the plot, and in return, the plot doesn’t seem to have any impact on the game.
While the story you’re told is rather lovely and sometimes even compelling, it doesn’t always match your own feelings. For example, in one level, you’re told that your characters feel oppressed and start to doubt their newfound relationship. However, while the narrator was telling us how we were supposed to feel, my partner and I were cheerfully working together, successfully solving co-op puzzle after puzzle.
An Ever Changing Challenge
It is not the plot that drives the game forward, but the puzzles. Your primary goal, as you might have already guessed, is to collect magical scarves dotted throughout each level. All of them are just out of reach, and you’ll have to figure out how to use Ember’s and Rime’s abilities to get to them.
Ember brings the warmth of summer with her, while Rime freezes everything around him. He freezes water and walks over them, while she activates steam vents that can carry her into the air. You can’t turn off the effects the two have on the world – you’ll have to work with them, and sometimes around them, to find the solutions. The puzzles are pretty clever, and while they never repeat themselves, they do maintain a subtle difficulty curve that keeps stacking new challenges on top of previous ones.
If a challenge proves too much for you, to can skip it. You don’t have to collect all the scarves to finish the game, just enough to unlock the next level. As a matter of fact, my wife and I managed to complete the game while accidentally skipping a whole level. That’s undoubtedly not a good thing, as we missed on an entire chunk of the game (we later went back and replayed), but it goes to show you how forgiving the game can be.
But don’t go skipping levels if you can help it. Each one of them presents a new gameplay mechanic which leads to whole new challenges. In one level, Rime and Ember can transform the barrier that separates them into a solid platform they can walk on. In another, the two can cause explosions that launch them away and can destroy certain obstacles. It keeps the game from getting stale by “forcing” to change your approach and challenge yourself.
I absolutely love co-op games when they are done right, and Degrees of Separation is done right. It encourages you to trust and communicate with the other player, or you won’t get very far. That’s why this game is perfect for couples, or for playing with someone who’s close to you – it fosters a good connection between the players. There’s a reason why the game came out on Valentine’s Day.
This isn’t the kind of game where one player ends up doing all the heavy lifting while the other is left overwhelmed and frustrated. You must work together, and the puzzles are so diverse that both players will have their time to shine – their opportunity to be the one that leads. It feels gratifying to experience that feeling of triumph together, and you can easily get lost in a streak of successful puzzle-solving.
But while experiencing the game together is fun, you can get so focused on the working together, talking over the game while discussing how to approach the problem, that you often miss out on the game’s other aspects. Degrees of Separation is a beautiful game, but it’s easy to overlook that while searching for the next scarf. We often talked between us over the game’s narration and didn’t really pay attention to the story since we were too busy working out a puzzle.
Degrees of Separation is a short, satisfying co-op title taken straight out of a storybook, at lease when it comes to the visuals. The story itself might be somewhat irrelevant to the overall experience, but it injects a little bit of meaning to the excellent puzzles. It’s a good opportunity to do something fun with someone you care about, and that’s always worthwhile.