STAFF REVIEW of Degrees of Separation (Xbox One)

Sunday, March 24, 2019.
by Jennifer Dingle

Degrees of Separation Box art Fittingly released on Valentine's Day, indie dev Moondrop’s Degrees of Separation is a 2D puzzle platformer that tells a tale of two lovers, Ember a princess of fire and heat, and Rime, prince of snow and ice, who desperately wish to be together but are kept apart by unknown barrier. With a beautiful story written by game industry veteran Chris Avellone, the narrative ties in quite nicely with the game's puzzle and platform mechanics. The two main characters live in the same world, but are alone in their own dimensions.

Their epic journey to be together can only be successful with help from the other and each have the power to manipulate the environment with their powers. Ember, radiant with heat and warmth, can melt icy puddles to access hidden caverns underneath and heat up lanterns to raise and lower platforms. Rime on the other hand, with his icy grip, can turn a log into a giant snowball to access an out of reach roof, freeze bodies of water to walk across or shut off a hot gas geyser that would otherwise send him soaring off of a platform. I really enjoyed the unique way that temperature and the barriers between Ember and Rime played a role in the puzzles. It’s a great twist on the genre and it definitely works well in Degrees of Separation.

You can play alone, and frequently switch between the two characters, but Degrees of Separation is definitely best played on a couch in local co-op, as I played alongside my significant other. It was great fun working together to reach a platform to collect a scarf, but also can definitely spark a fight with your partner (I may or may not speak from experience!) when trying figure out a head scratching puzzle together. Cooperation and communication is definitely key to success.

My biggest peeve about Degrees of Separation is the lack of online co-op, and the fact that the game does not recognize Player 2’s credentials on Xbox Live. We both felt it was unfair, especially in a gamer household like ours, that the other player could not get achievements, and understandably, it definitely took some of the fun away for my Player 2. I suppose it gives you reason to go back and play again, but after dealing with some of the more frustrating puzzles, we have yet to find the urge to return for another playthrough.

Degrees of Separation is a completionists dream (or nightmare, depending on how you look at it), as each level in Degrees of Separation is filled with wispy scarves to be found, often out of reach. These scarves help progress the game and highlight the intricate puzzles and platforming. You can certainly finish the level without collecting them if so inclined. And if you find that you missed one, there were numerous checkpoints found throughout the level that could be used to fast travel, which made backtracking to find a missing scarf a little easier than making the long trek backward on foot. Fast traveling also gave a brief glimpse of what needed to be done to get that scarf, and we often found ourselves traveling back and forth between these checkpoints in our attempts to figure out a tough puzzle.

I didn’t think that the puzzles were overly difficult, although there were moments that we found ourselves quite stuck, and quickly found out that Degree of Separation wasn't exactly a linear experience. Frequently, we found ourselves quite irritated with tracking back after realizing that we have missed scarf. As well, while most of the puzzles were quite clever, sometimes we would throw our hands up in exasperation at the steps needed to reach a scarf, which definitely took some of the magic away, and found ourselves turning the game off in sheer frustration. That said, the game mechanics were easy to figure out and intuitive and even a first time gamer could sit down and play without difficulty.

The Degrees of Separation soundtrack is filled with beautiful music that perfectly accompanies Rime and Ember’s adventures through castles and caverns filled with intricate knotwork and fairy tale backgrounds. The lovely hand drawn characters and fantasy storybook-like world were truly were pleasure to look at, and help Degrees of Separation standing out from being just another 2D platformer.

If you're looking for a fun couch co-op game, then Degrees of Separation is a lovely 2D puzzle platformer that should definitely be experienced. The beautiful hand drawn backdrops, great music, with interesting narrative that cleverly tied into the game mechanics made this a pleasure to play, but at times the platforming and the puzzles can sometimes be frustrating and ruin the fun. At a mere $29.99 CDN, playing Degrees of Separation makes for a cheap (but fun!) date night in with your Player 2.

Overall: 7.6 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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