Review by John Hellier
Hey kids, ever heard of a website called Newgrounds? Well Modus Games sure have from the looks of this game. After playing through the whole thing all I had were reminiscences to flash games from a decade ago. That’s not to say flash-based games are bad, it’s just that Degrees of Separation appears to have just emigrated from there and it hasn’t had a chance to look around the neighborhood yet.
Degrees of Separation is at heart a 2d platformer/puzzler in the same vein as the likes of Limbo and such, but unlike those games with their usual dark tones and themes, this is a more upbeat affair…ish. You control 2 characters, Rime and Ember, each from a different world with different magical climates. One being from an ice world where everything is blue and frozen, and the other from a hot fiery realm mainly consisting of the colour orange. I will give you a moment to figure out which comes from where, the subtle clue being in their damn names.
One morning these two awaken to a feeling of something wrong with their respective worlds so they go out to investigate, whereupon they meet and are transported to a mystery 3rd world where things have vaguely gone wrong and you try to figure out what happened and how to get home. Oh, and they also fall in love even though the barrier between their worlds prevents them from being together, thus explaining my earlier ish.
Thankfully all of this story is handled by a narrator rather than say pages of text to read, so if it all gets a little twee you can just mute the volume and listen to whatever you like. Then again you would be missing out on the constant crunch of footsteps and grunts every time you jump. It’s almost The Sims level of audio, but luckily it never reaches a point past irksome.
Gameplay wise it’s a standard collect-a-thon in the likes of Mario Odyssey where you complete tasks to get McGuffins to open the next area rinse repeat. Here the tasks are a series of unconnected puzzle rooms where you use your combined powers to reach the scarves. Remember how I said the characters come from different realms? Well in game this is represented by a barrier between the 2, on either side the world is affected by whichever element is in play. Water freezes to create platforms or barriers, platforms shift etc. It’s a pretty neat little mechanic which the game handles well, the terrain and background changing to match the current climate. As you progress through the different worlds new twists on these powers are introduced in order to keep the challenges interesting.
So, about the flash comments from the opening (and you thought I’d forgotten about them). The art style of Degrees of Separation is quite pretty, even when the story means the landscape is desolate. The aforementioned changing art is handled smoothly, but I do have a few issues. The character models are as flash like as you can imagine. This is in no way a deal breaker, it just strikes me as an odd choice. My largest problem though is the map, or more accurately lack thereof.
Levels are open ended, sprawling affairs with multiple routes, but without a map it can get pretty challenging to find the final scarf in a level. You do get a constellation affair at the top of the screen to give you an idea of how many scarves you have left to collect, and a rough approximation of location, but with no point of reference it seems designed to annoy. This is made worse by the fact they only appear at waypoints, so half the time they appear in front of dark ceilings, so spotting where missed scarf locations are becomes a lesson in brightness adjustment on your TV.
As an aside, I feel the need to make a confession. During the day I played this game I had to look at a guide twice. Once was in order to solve a puzzle, I’d spent 30 minutes attempting, trying more and more complicated things before searching for the solution. As it turns out I’d been over thinking my approach so that’s on me. The 2nd was to actually find a puzzle, as the scarf in question was hidden by a foreground object so I’d ran past it half a dozen times. Eagle eyed amongst you will have been confused by the use of the word day at the start of this section, well this is in no way a long game. I can’t remember the last time I finished a game 100% in a day (OK, with a touch of help admittedly). I’m not sure I’d call this a bad thing though, as I at no point got bored or felt the game getting stale.
So, the question is, should you give Degrees of Separation a go? I’d say so. Sure, it’s no triple A title, nor is it a sprawling epic, but what it does it does amazingly well. The puzzles are tightly designed and satisfying to solve, the background story is intriguing without being obtrusive and there is no slog or grind. Sure, the only real way to get replay value would be to suffer some form of head trauma, but you can’t have everything apparently. In conclusion;
Degrees of Separation gets a 7/10
Officially the furthest thing ever from Kevin Bacon