Review – Degrees of Separation
When I started playing Degrees of Separation, I assumed it was going to be another 2D Metroidvania. I love a good Metroidvania as much as the next, but when every other indie is another one of them, it can make one want for something different. To my delight, Degrees of Separation ended up being exactly what I was looking for.
When one thinks collectathon, they generally think of a 3D platformer in the vein of Super Mario 64, Spyro, Banjo-Kazooie, and so on. You collect items while 3D platforming through a variety of maps in order to unlock the ability to explore other maps. Degrees of Separation takes this premise and transplants it into its 2D worlds. It ended up working so well it makes me wonder why it’s not a more popular genre among indies.
You play as Ember and Rime, avatars of heat and cold, and the control over their respective elements is your main puzzle solving tool. From freezing water to walk on top of using Rime, to opening up volcanic vents that propel you to far-to-reach places with Ember, the game is very creative with this simple idea, and there’s always a new utilization of these abilities. On top of that, each of the worlds you unlock has a unique gameplay mechanic that makes gameplay even more varied.
Scarves are the Power Stars in Degrees of Separation, just waiting to be collected. You use them in the hub world, called “The Castle” to unlock doors to all the other maps, where you can collect more in order to unlock more doors. It’s the standard collectathon formula in action, as there is no need to fix what isn’t broken.
Where most of the genre prioritizes a pure gameplay loop over a deep narrative, Degrees of Separation engrosses you in the strange attraction and relationship of the diametrically opposed Ember and Rime and how it relates both to the lands they travel through and the mighty Dragon that dogs their steps. Penned by the legendary Chris Avellone, it successfully sucks you in and invests you in this world and its protagonists beyond what most other platformers even attempt.
It does have some issues though. While most puzzles revolve around ice/heat element manipulation, those that require precise platforming as well really show how floaty and imprecise the game can be. It’s not impossible, and such puzzles can even be skipped as you don’t need every scarf to complete the game, but it’s annoying when you fall off the same platform a hundred times due to imprecise controls.
Another issue for some people that may not matter to others is the lack of online co-op. While the entire game can be played in local co-op, with one player playing Rime while the other controls Ember, it’s splitscreen only. A patch adding online co-op is in the works, but it has no release window other than the typical placeholder message of “soon”, so those who don’t have someone nearby long enough to finish it may want to wait for this patch to be released.
Finally, there’s the issue of price, length, and replayability. It’s not a very long game. There’s a total of five worlds to unlock alongside the hub area, and while each area has a decent length, a general playthrough of each clocks in at around an hour. While completionists will get more time out of it for sure, the general player will be looking at six to eight hours of playtime with little to no replayablity. For twenty dollars, some people may be hesitant. Personally, I believe the intriguing narrative, co-op gameplay, and interesting mechanics are already worth the price of admission.
Degrees of Separation renewed my interest in 2D platformers. I’ve played many collectathons over the years, and many 2D platformers, but rarely have I played a game that so successfully combines the two. Toss in a narrative and world built by one of the best writers in gaming and a gorgeous hand-drawn art style and you have another indie classic.
The backgrounds and the way they shift from frozen to thriving as Ember and Rime move around never gets old.
Floaty platforming and a relatively short playtime are balanced out by interesting puzzle mechanics and an intriguing narrative.
The music is equally haunting and beautiful, perfectly representing the worlds you travel through. The voice acting is very professional, above what you normally expect.
Fun Factor: 7.5
While some puzzles are more frustrating than fun, the story and gameplay loop are more then enough to keep you engaged, especially in co-op.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Degrees of Separation is available now on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch
Reviewed on Switch
A copy of Degrees of Separation was provided by the publisher.