A good puzzle game will manage to strike just the right balance when it comes to its difficulty. Too hard and frustration soon sets, the constant banging of your head on the wall losing its appeal fast. Too easy and you have the exact opposite effect in that the satisfaction and reward just isn’t enough to keep you playing. Throw in multiple players and this balancing task becomes even tougher. Thankfully DERU: The Art of Cooperation takes an otherwise fairly simplistic mechanic and expands it in some interesting and challenging ways.
On paper DERU: The Art of Cooperation’s idea is a simple one. Take control of two shapes – one white and one black – and move them to an end goal avoiding any obstacles of the same colour. That means your white shape cannot touch anything else white and the same goes for black. As you might have deciphered based on the title alone, completing your objectives will require you to make use of both shapes in unison to solve puzzles (either alone or with a friend).
Each stage features almost river-esque streams of black and white colour moving across the screen and while you’ll want to avoid sections that match the colour of your shape you are able to touch or outright block anything of the opposite colour. For example, if you see a black stream ahead of you, you’ll want to use your white shape to block it, then allowing your black one to slide on past unharmed. Of course, this is just an extremely simple example, the game not only throwing a growing web of streams at you but also changing up what your shapes can actually do.
Throughout the game, you’ll play as three different shapes. Triangles are your standard form limited to simply moving around, squares offer you the chance to splinter off into smaller pieces – ideal for blocking streams – and circles allow you to transfer mass between your two shapes. It’s thanks to the two latter shapes that the game can experiment a little more with its level design. Just when you think you have the triangle cracked, you’ll then need to wrap your head around being able to divide your shape into several controllable pieces or adjust its size. When you’ve gotten used to that the game will then give you two different shapes at the same time!
The game rather unsurprisingly works best when played with another person each of you controlling your own shape. Whether you’re attempting to bark orders at one another chaotically or seeing your well thought out plan go off without a hitch, the end result is often a fun and rewarding one. The game does support single player with each analogue controlling its own shape. It works… until the puzzles start to escalate in complexity and suddenly become more than a handful to juggle between both shapes. It certainly adds an extra layer of difficulty but not necessarily in the right way. It’s clear the game is designed with two players in mind and to no surprise proves more fun as a pair than on your lonesome.
The game has a wonderfully unique look to it, its abstract art style eliciting a calming feeling despite the fact you’re trying to time your movements and figure out brain-teasing puzzles. It’s unlike anything on Switch and a great way to turn what could have been a fairly uninspired looking game into something striking.
At only around 70 stages DERU: The Art of Cooperation isn’t the longest experience, my wife and I managing to best them all over a weekend. It’s a shame because the game could really benefit from hitting that hundred mark or from a couple of extra shapes with their own properties.
DERU: The Art of Cooperation is a simple but beautiful puzzler that really shines when two players are involved. It’s an easy recommendation if you’re after a head scratcher and perfect for couples looking for a way to spend a couple of afternoons. Playing alone? It’s functional but far from the true way to experience the game.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Ink Kit