Degrees of Separation Review

By Mark Delaney, 24 days ago
My partner and I were long-distance for almost two years before we were finally able to close the gap and live in love in close proximity, so the premise of a 2D puzzler like Degrees of Separation seemed to be exactly the kind of game I could get into with its tale of so-close-yet-so-far lovers determined to resolve their spatial obstacles. While the story does do well to paint that picture in genuine tones, it's let down by level structure that feels like little more than a collectible hunt amid puzzles that lack variety.

12/02/2019 - Carousel

Degrees of Separation tells the story of Ember and Rime, star-crossed lovers from opposite planes of existence. Ember dwells in a fiery land of orange and yellow while Rime lives in a frosty blue winter wonderland. The introduction sees these two drawn to each other, accompanied by very sweet narration that presets it all like a fairy tale. They meet on a bridge, existing in the same place but inexplicably different universes, one could say. With a barrier separating Rime from Ember, cold from warm, the two must navigate multiple hub worlds on route to once and for all closing that distance between them.

This barrier is the central element of the game's puzzles. It splits the screen between the two and morphs depending on where they stand in relation to one another. This makes it important to be very mindful of where they are and where they should be. Each character can alter the world in different ways, like Rime cooling down geysers to allow Ember to pass, or Ember melting snowballs that block their way. The element of splitting the world in half and altering it in many different ways is interesting on its own, but it's rarely supported with puzzles that make it worthwhile.

Naturally, the game is meant to be played in split-screen co-op and it's definitely better that way. Swapping between both characters is otherwise a bit of a chore even as the game admirably tries to let your secondary character go on auto-pilot sometimes. It usually doesn't work as intended, like when you use one character to call the other over. When you're close by, they tend to find their way just fine, but get too far apart and the AI runs into walls and quickly forgets how to make it back to you. Two players, thus, is the preferred method, both for puzzle-solving and just thematically, of course.

Screenshots

Having a partner by your side won't solve all the game's problems, however. The puzzles themselves aren't usually that interesting. For much too long they operate on the same basic premise of pulleys and ropes. They're one-note, lacking variety even as later hub worlds introduce new mechanics. It feels like beating the first world has given you a taste of nearly all there is to see beyond the sweet story, though for some that will be enough.

The game's biggest issue is how these hubs are presented. Across each 2D landscape, there are a number of scarves to collect, each one dangling as a solution of a puzzle. To open subsequent hubs you need to obtain set numbers of scarves with the two distant lovers. Rather than send you through linear levels where it feels like there's a goal to reach at the far right, as so many platformers do well, Degrees of Separation lets you freely roam about each world, making pit stops every time you see a scarf. If it sounds like a touch of smart non-linear design, it's sadly not. Instead, it makes the entire game feel like a collect-a-thon. It's as though we are told in the first scene, "these two belong together," but to bring them their deserved closeness players must first find every collectible in the game.

If these scarves operated as collectibles in games tend to, they may have provided an added challenge for some. Instead, they're the only way through the game, making it all quite tedious. I'm happy to say my once long-distance partner and I are still going strong half a decade later, but I'm sad to say she bailed on finishing this game with me as it bored her too much.

Screens - 20/12/18

The achievement list is a little strange. There are only 10, but three of them reward you with 0 gamerscore. The rest are for finding all of the collectibles in the game, making it a straightforward and simple completion if you happen to like the style of puzzles seen throughout — or just use a guide.

Check out our Best Xbox Platformer Games Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

Degrees of Separation opens like a touching fairy tale complete with well-written narration and a soft tone of lovers determined to find one another. Sadly, the game betrays them and the player alike by structuring progression exclusively around collectibles. It results in a world that is pretty and pleasant to look at, but often tedious to move through. Still, it's better in co-op and won't take more than one or two date night sessions to see it all, leaving it a flawed fairy tale, but still one with heart.
3 / 5
Degrees of Separation
Positives
  • Pleasant aesthetics and sweet narration make it all feel like a fairy tale
  • Better in split-screen co-op
Negatives
  • Puzzles are one-note
  • Hub worlds get tedious due to collectible-driven progress
  • In solo mode, the AI-assisted controls tend to fail
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent four hours trying to reunite Ember and Rime, often pulling on ropes to open doors and other passageways. He gathered half of the 10 achievements. A review code was provided by the publisher.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is the host of the community game club TA Playlist. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his family. He almost never writes in the third person.