Degrees of Separation, by Moondrop and Modus Games, brings to life the contrast of fire and ice, winter and summer, hot and cold. Famous game writer Chris Avellone has written this intimate tale surrounding these two figures of mysterious power. Degrees of Separation as a whole is just like its core concept, both very hot and cold in almost every aspect.
Rime, a young man cold to the bone with winter always surrounding him. Ember, a young woman with the glow of summer always radiating from her. These two find each other and are called out into the world to solve many puzzles while always wanting to be together and separated by the seasons and their inherent nature. The story starts out very strong, with great narration and writing, however, the story slows down after the initial start and the becomes a slow burn that would be much better shown instead of told.
Ember and Rime really don’t interact, which is a bummer. They are on screen together and the gameplay revolves around them interacting, but the lack of many animations, voice lines or really intimate or tangible interactions make the game feel lifeless at times. The pacing also slows down as the gameplay comes into fruition, this leaves the player feeling very distant from the story. The story is pretty interesting for sure, but the way it is delivered takes away from the overall experience.
A puzzle platformer for two? Yes and no. This game revolves around the Ember and Rime, Ember is, in essence, can only be in summer and creates warmth around her, and Rime is her opposite, creating and surrounded by winter. With freezing over geysers and ponds versus heating up lamps and walking underwater, the gameplay is pretty fun having these two opposites interact in order to solve puzzles.
Like most puzzle platformers, the game will introduce a new item or interaction that can only be used in that area or section to solve a set number of puzzles. However, because of the oddity and natural puzzle mechanics of two characters and their being on certain places of the screen as a way to solve puzzles, it does feel like a heavier loss to lose an item or new interaction that breaks those rules when moving onto a new level. The puzzles are overall fun and doable, but the difficulty can vary a lot and sometimes becomes a guessing game that has to be played in order to get past a level.
Having two characters almost obviously means this game was made for two people. Which this game was, but after multiple tries, the game was ultimately more reasonable to play and less of a chore when playing single player. This game has no real two-player interaction, so it is much less of a dependence on another person to interact with you as it is waiting and hoping the other person will see what you are trying to do and move to the right place to solve the puzzle or you talk/yell at each other to know what to do next.
The stunning warmth with summer light in the glowing sun versus the cool crisp blues and whites of the ice and snow make for a phenomenal art piece that consistently looks beautiful with every movement and change in gameplay. The setting of castle dungeons and thick forests look great but do become a little stale after going back and forth through the area to try puzzles again or exploring possibly missed things.
The music is pretty good. It fits the setting well and adds a nice tone to curiosity, fear, love, and exploration to the game. The sound effects are pretty average, not good or bad, this includes the constant grunts and noises the characters make every two seconds that they jumped or moved at all. I eventually had to lower their volume because it got on my nerves a little. Lastly the narration, the backbone of the story and the game overall. The narration was great, never cheesy or annoying. She was always soft and kind, and yet invested and excited when the characters were doing something interesting or past a certain puzzle.
The gameplay is fun overall and it is fun to show someone who likes puzzles or more story based games, but after a person plays through the game initially, there seems to be little reason to go through again. The game is longer than I expected and drags out the story, which makes playing the game just to experience the story not that much fun. It is a fun thing to pull out once in a while with a person who particularly enjoys these titles, but other than that and finishing all the puzzles and collecting the scarfs (which you mostly do to finish the story), there is almost no reason to go back.
What It Could Do Better
I don’t want to pick apart everything, but I do need to hit a lot of little points. The game has no map of where you are or where you’ve been, and because each area looked somewhat the same, it was easy to get lost and wander a 2D world looking for puzzles you haven’t done or areas that you left and want to go back to explore. This really stops the game and story dead in its tracks and can leave a player lacking in interest to proceed. The next suggestion would be the way the story is told.
As mentioned before the story is very interesting, but with it being ALL narrated and told to the audience instead of shown, this game might have been just as good as just a short story or animated short film. The characters have no tangible interaction, friendly waves or facial expressions of things that happen are here and there, but they feel very simple and I think that flushing those out would have made the character more relatable and easier to invest care about.
Lastly, the core gameplay, very hot and cold. It is a really fun concept and really interesting, but far too often was I solving puzzles that only involved one specific mechanics that had little to do with the the summer/winter dynamic or I would be just running around trying all different positions to shift things so I could to get past the level. This game seems like a really great tech demo, but to be a fully realized game, I expected a greater culmination of puzzle tools and more teaching how to solve puzzles instead of guessing and checking.
This game has a lot of very good and very bad things. It is fun to play initially and the puzzles are fun to solve together for the first bit. But the bland storytelling and sluggish pacing mixed with puzzles that can be either be really high or low quality bring this game down from its beautiful potential and aspiration. If puzzle platformers and pretty visuals are a passion for you, then this game will fill you up for a bit, otherwise, it is probably worth skipping.