Degrees of Separation is an indie puzzle-platformer developed by Norwegian studio, Moondrop, in a similar vein to the Trine series. As soon as I saw the trailer, I was hooked by the interesting concept this game proposed to me. And then I saw that the publisher, Modus Games, put out Extinction last year, which came out to…let’s just say less-than-stellar reviews. But Degrees of Separation also has Chris Avellone on the writing team, who previously worked on Balder’s Gate and the Fallout series. Could this game be an unexpected sleeper indie hit, or am I going to need a restraining order to keep us separated?
Spiritual Content: There are some references to Celtic paganism like the Triquetra showing up in the loading screens. There is also a dragon that can be seen throughout the game which may frighten some younger players, but it’s mostly pretty tame.
Positive Content: Cooperation and working together to achieve a common goal is shown throughout the story. The story also touches on long-distance relationships and the challenges that come with that.
The first thing that struck me about Degrees of Separation is its production value. The game has this great-looking watercolor look to it; the characters almost look hand-drawn. The soundtrack is really good as well; the main menu theme consists of a relaxing piano tune that sets the mood for the whole experience.
Note that Degrees of Separation does support local cooperative multiplayer. I appreciate this as good co-op games are a rarity these days, and as a guy who grew up playing endless rounds of Mario Kart and Smash Bros multiplayer on the Nintendo 64, I appreciate that the developers decided to include this feature. As I played through the Degrees of Separation, I realized that the game is designed for co-op to be the optimal play experience. And as I had nobody to play this with, the single player experience of this really soured my time with this game.
Now don’t get me wrong here: there are some really good ideas in here that I liked. In Degrees of Separation, you play as two characters: Ember, the fire princess, and Rime, the ice boy. Throughout the game, you use the pair to solve various platforming challenges and puzzles. Both of these characters have their own unique abilities to help solve these puzzles. For example, Rime can create giant snowballs by rolling up logs to climb on and Ember can use steam vents to reach higher places. And seeing the world shift between the warm orange and cool blue is a marvelous wonder. There are some really good ideas in here and some of the puzzles are really clever. But unfortunately, the execution of it all leaves a lot to be desired.
One of the big problems I have with Degrees of Separation is the way that it handles its collectibles. There are scarfs strewn throughout the different levels to collect that add to the puzzle challenge. At first, I thought these were just optional collectibles like most other games, but unfortunately this is not the case. For some odd reason, the developers made the seemingly optional collectibles tied to progression. In order to unlock the next level, you have to collect a certain amount of scarfs to move on. This often leads to some tedious backtracking to essentially grind–a term I never thought I’d use to describe a puzzle game—for collectibles. Collecting these trivial items feels forced and at the endpoint like a formality—it is certainly a different approach than that of Celeste, which I enjoyed because I could collect the extra strawberries and B-Sides at my own pace.
There are some other little design choices here that could’ve used some more work. Each level introduces a new mechanic like creating light bridges or using a ball and chain to swing to far away platforms, but they’re taken away about as soon as they’re introduced. And I really could’ve done without that one really frustrating level granting a power that causes an explosion between Ember and Rime, causing them to fly ten feet in opposite directions. Sometimes, the platforms in the foreground blend in with environment details in the background, making some sequences harder than necessary. I feel like the jump height is a bit short sometimes. Switching between the two characters isn’t quite as seamless as I would’ve liked. I would’ve preferred a control system similar to Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons for single-player mode where each character would be mapped to a joystick, but I would imagine this problem is eliminated if you’re playing in co-op.
While the story is well-written and narrated by a great voice actress, the ending feels pretty anticlimactic. The game sets up this dragon near the beginning and I was expecting some kind of boss battle with it—something like a great final level where you have to solve a really complex puzzle while evading his attacks. What actually happens is that you annoy him for a bit, and then drop a log that instantly kills him. And then the game just kinda ends after a multiple choice ending. And then I said to myself, “Is that it?” These may seem like minor issues, but over time they really add up to an experience that does not live up to the expectations it establishes from the beginning.
Overall, Degrees of Separation has both good and bad elements to it. And for every good thing I like about it, there is something else that frustrates me. I like the overall concept of it as there are some really good ideas in here that would’ve been improved with a few more months in development. If I had played this in co-op, maybe some of these problems could’ve been mitigated. I would say that Degrees of Separation is slightly above average at best with the caveat of the co-op experience. If you do play this, be sure to bring a friend, and save yourself some sanity by avoiding single player.
Review code generously provided by Evolve PR
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