Degrees of Separation is a platformer puzzle game that encourages up to two players to work together to traverse through various worlds to find scarves that will unlock yet further progression. There's a cool concept buried within developer Moondrop's beautifully detailed landscapes and colorful characters, especially in how the two main protagonists contribute to puzzle solving. It's just a shame that Degrees of Separation never really digs deep enough to hit at something truly compelling. The game is also held down by a frustrating amount of bugs and technical issues that make progression truly frustrating.
It's not all bad. Degrees of Separation's protagonists, Ember and Rime, are fleshed out and interesting, even if they never actually utter a word of dialogue throughout the game's short run time. Ember is from the warm portion of the world while Rime is, naturally, from its colder parts. These two elements are natural opposites and the game utilizes this both in reality and thematically. A magical line running down the screen separates the two characters and their climates and players must strategically use the environments and abilities of Ember and Rime to solve various puzzles throughout the world.
For instance, while controlling Rime, you'll be able to walk over water, which freezes in his side of the world. Ember, on the other hand, can breathe under that same water and traverse to areas that Rime would not be able to. Using an intelligent combination of their abilities, players can grab up the scarves and move on to other areas. It's a very neat system that is actually far less complex than it sounds. The puzzles are, for the most part, never all that challenging, making it perfect for a relaxing couch cooperative (there is no online play) experience. It helps that you don't have to necessarily collect all of the scarves in a certain area to advance either, though the completionist is obviously going to make that a goal. If that's not enough, Degrees of Separation has no health system and neither character can die or be hurt.
While the story is rather bare bones when it comes to narrative heft, there is narration that runs throughout the game, offering insight into both Rime and Ember's past lives and helping players understand how certain elements in the game function. The narration is also useful for conveying Degrees of Separation's themes like love. Written by Chris Avellone, who has worked on many critically acclaimed video game titles like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords, the game's employment of minimalism works to its benefit. It's one of the title's biggest strengths.
Then there are Degrees of Separation's weaknesses, which hold the game back from being something worth completely recommending. Bugs and technical issues are everywhere, from falling through the map inexplicably to frustrating crashing issues to a checkpoint-based save system that only works less than half of the time. There's a traversal system that lets players transform into a butterfly at any checkpoint and quickly travel to any other checkpoint tablet they've previously accessed, but being forced to use this system on every boot up of the game just to get back to where you were previously is completely illogical design work.
There's also a feeling that Ember and Rime's abilities are never fully fleshed out enough. There are only a few uniquely enjoyable elements that set the two characters apart and it would have been better to see Moondrop implement a little more creativity in this department. It could be argued that the developer didn't want to complicate mechanics too much to keep the game as much of a breezy cooperative experience as possible, but when most of the game has you backtracking just to move forward, repeating the same old puzzles again and again can feel downright tiresome.
When it comes down to it, Degrees of Separation is a mixed bag. It's certainly fun and light enough that parents will easily be able to play with their children, especially with puzzles that are never all that demanding. The narrative is delightful and revealed in a way that feels more akin to a fairy tale than it does to boring exposition. However, its technical failures and gameplay shortcomings can not be ignored and ultimately separates the game from the more polished titles offered by its peers.
Degrees of Separation is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch for $19.99. Screen Rant was provided an Xbox One copy for the purposes of this review.