Hot and Cold
With whimsical visual splendor and gameplay built for co-op, Degrees of Separation has its heart and soul in the right place. Not an enemy in sight, the meat of gameplay revolves around solving one environmental puzzle after the other. Unfortunately, many of the environmental hazards are over designed, causing tedium and frustration instead of fun and entertainment.
Playing as two protagonists simultaneously, Ember controls heat and fire whereas Rime is the master of ice and cold. Never able to touch one another, the screen twists and turns from hot to cold depending on which character is taking the lead. The entire game is based around this one gameplay element for better and worse. For example, Ember will sink in water whereas Rime will walk on top of it by instantly creating ice. The heat coming from Ember can ignite lights which cause platforms to rise. Rime can push a snowball to reach new heights, and so on. The biggest problem with this is the constant blue/orange barrier on screen. This boarder is never in direct control of the player, making the success of most puzzles seem random, goes against the player, and often requires pixel perfection to the point of annoyance.
Since the entire game is built around co-op play, where one player controls each character, it is obvious that the single player experience will suffer. When playing solo, the shoulder buttons switch between characters and can activate a follow command. For the most part, the AI will follow but will rarely, if ever, assist in solving a puzzle. There were many times I had no clue how to solve a puzzle, hoping the AI would kick in and essentially demonstration what to do. Instead, they just sit there and wait for guidance. Combine this with the character’s floaty jumps, loose marionette animations, and the need to collect a bagillion scarves, this co-op puzzle platformer grows exhausting instead of entertaining.
On the plus side, this is a vibrant looking downloadable game. The screenshots look great but the twisting and turning of color in motion is always appealing. However, there is a narrator that announces the happenings and plot at random points and feels shoehorned into the entire experience, designed to create some type of back story and incentive to continue. This form of story presentation is awkward at best and can’t help but wonder how different the experience would have been if the two characters actually spoke to one another. They are, after all, working together and literally standing right next to each other. Couldn’t there have been conversations on how to complete the next puzzle or why they are choosing to continue? The narrator makes the entire experience seem unnatural and even a little uncomfortable.
On paper, Degrees of Separation manages to check most boxes but stutters on the overall execution. Instead of the gameplay matching the whimsical visuals, most puzzles have been designed with too much difficulty, not enough direction, and makes it overly challenging when playing single player or with a clueless/inexperienced co-op partner. What should have been the perfect, friendly, casual, Valentine’s Day release winds up being a package designed more for the hardcore, the gluttons for punishment, and the players who obsess about collecting everything.
Also available on PC, Switch, and PS4.
Not As Good As: The Adventures of Cookies And Cream (PS2)
Also Try: Pode (Switch/PS4)
Wait For It: the next Little Big Planet