Degrees of Separation Review
Indie game studio Moondrop, in their own words, strive to explore new possibilities in game design and wrap it inside great visual experiences. With their latest release Degrees of Separation (available on Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and Steam) it’s clear to see the efforts made to do just that. Based on the theme of contrasting seasons and temperatures, the environments of this 2D adventure blend effortlessly with the original story that unravels as the game progresses. But with some slightly awkward mechanics and a narrative that will definitely be either hit to miss, this game might just be nicer to look at.
Cooperation, in either multiplayer or single-player mode, is typical of many if not all puzzle platformers. Degrees of Separation, however, imbues teamwork into every aspect of the game. Directed towards two-player co-op, the game asks you to play as either Ember, the girl from the land of fire, or Rime, the boy from the world of ice. On taking to see their separate worlds in ruin one day they each set out to find answers - which appear in the shape of magical scarves - and find the love of each other along the way. Cute or cringey, it’s up to you but the emphasis on romance narratively is the driving force of the game — this made evidently clear by its Valentine’s day release.
The level designs are undeniably gorgeous, with depth and detail in both the fire and ice versions of the environments, which is enhanced by the non-linear fashion of the game. This style of gameplay gives you the option to explore all the different landscapes on offer, complete the puzzles you want or are able to solve, and then come back to the rest later on. This Metroidvania style will appeal to many, particularly fans of Hollow Knight and Ori and the Blind Forest, but for myself and my willing co-player, the style led to more frustration than enjoyment as we often found ourselves getting lost in our attempts to backtrack to find the missing scarves. And that was all before even starting on the puzzles, which range from the simple to the near impossible. Certain levels provide Rime and Ember with new powers including creating barriers that they can walk over to reach difficult to get to spaces, gusts of wind, and frozen rivers. It’s a shame that these skills don’t cross over to other levels, but figuring out how to best use these new skills is certainly a lot of fun.
However, even if you are a fan of such open-campaign games, it’s hard to ignore some of the mechanical issues of Degrees of Separation. Employing a simple side-scroller progression, with the expanse of what seems like an indefinite amount of directions to take, it is easy enough to get to grips with the workings of the game without the need for any tutorials or prompting and there is a range of puzzle types and difficulties. But with so many spaces to explore and scarves to collect, it doesn’t take all that long to notice the repetitions. Add to that some puzzle designs that, if done incorrectly, will leave you trapped and having to keep returning to the home screen - all of which adds to the frustration caused by this game. Additionally, as a single-player game, Degrees of Separation becomes tedious rather quickly - switching between Ember and Rime is easy enough, but the amount of control you have is effectively halved due to the AI’s programming, making puzzle solving and world exploring far more convoluted than you’d want.
There is a lot that is to be enjoyed from Degrees of Separation, the design and soundtrack especially, but there are too many elements to it that induce frustration instead of entertainment - no more so than by the fact this is such a missed opportunity for a charming and interesting platformer.