Posted 15 Nov 2018 at 16:00 by Sam C Gittins
While there certainly isn't a shortage of purely single-player content on the Nintendo Switch eShop, it's undeniable that when it comes to co-operative focused titles, the same simply cannot be said, aside from a few examples such as Overcooked 2 and its recent DLC which originated on other platforms, plus Snipperclips; even though these titles are decent enough and reportedly a lot of fun, there is still plenty of room for more elusive, unique co-op offerings.
A new challenger has appeared in the form of Deru - The Art of Cooperation (known as Deru henceforth) which in the words of Ink Kit Studios themselves...
"Deru brings two players together in a cooperative gaming experience, in which they solve abstract and complex levels. With teamwork, timing and tactical placement both players bring color into the world of DERU. Mutual helping and protecting are fundamental parts of the gameplay. To be successful the players have to communicate and plan outside of the game. The player can also challenge oneself to control both characters and solve the many puzzles."
To add some further detail, one player controls a white coloured shape while the other player controls a black coloured shape, each can absorb the opposite colour in order to let the other shape pass through while coming into contact with the same colour as the shape you're controlling will cause the shape to reduce in size if it's only momentary, but more than a second results in death and having to restart the stage. The ultimate goal of each stage is to get each coloured shape to the correct coloured portal, once both shapes reach their respective coloured portals (the same colour as the shape the player is controlling) then the stage will be complete.
Yes, this is one of those games which is harder to explain in text and easier to just play but we aim to please here at N-Europe so let us see what else this charming title consists of.
Taking place across seventy stages which are split across five levels, (named Faith, Courage, Liberty, Abundance and Dependence respectively) you'll start out with just trying to cross over a few static black and white lines (thematically these seem to represent darkness and light) which doesn't come across as being too taxing on the player(s) and it shouldn't be too long before you've at least cleared the first levels set of stages.
As you can see from the screenshots, all of which were taken from the first set of stages so as not to spoil too much, there's quite a bit of variety even right from start, especially when you consider that the lines in the last two images are constantly moving, meaning that timing is key to surviving each stage. Things do start to get more complicated as you get a bit further in, yet it always seems fair, as this is a game which definitely eases you in before trying to baffle you with its trickier puzzles.
Indeed, this title which has been made using Unity, has been in development for over four years across various iterations, on the day that the game launched there was an interesting live stream on Steam (the other platform Deru has been released on) which was hosted by Dominic who did the Programming and Christian who's the Level Designer, where the pair from the Swiss quartet who made the game talked about how it was greatly improved from fan feedback when the title was shown at various conventions over the years.
Interestingly, there's quite a gap between the first stage and one stage which appears much later in the game which was originally going to be the second stage sequentially and having played from the start then seeing the later stage, I can see why they added more stages, choosing to save that considerably more complicated stage for a later level as I feel that would have been quite a leap which might have lead to intense difficulty spikes.
Just as it is though, I feel like Deru is almost perfectly paced, because although there are a fair few stages where you'll be wondering just how to get from one point to another without getting obliterated, or those moments where getting the timing of sweeping through dark or light matter while keeping the other shape safe seems tricky; it still seems to be within the realms of being possible to overcome... most of the time.
So of course the game deserves credit, especially for taking a simple concept and running with it in ways you might not be expecting. While the triangles don't do seem to do anything much except absorb matter, later you'll control circles which can tansfer mass from one to the other at a press of the "A" button, knowing when to make one big and the other small can be crucial at times; finally you have squares which can leave behind smaller decoys in place which adds yet another layer to it all.
Combining all of the aforementioned gameplay mechanics with later stages which seem to require different pairings of shapes, absorbing matter to change the flow, chasing the exit(s) until they reach their final location and a final "boss world" which is the last area; all in all you end up with quite an engaging game. Especially considering that "Deru" from Japanese to English apparently means "to exit" which makes it all sound so simple, at least conceptually.
You can probably expect Deru to last you anywhere from four to six hours if you're playing as a team, though it should also be noted that it is entirely possible to play in solo mode, which will likely mean that your mileage will vary. In some ways I found that it was simpler to play on my own, making good progress without the constant worry of something going wrong which is out of my control, but other times I was left thinking that I could do with an extra pair of hands, just for this one part.
Another thing that I should bring up is that while I mostly played on the TV when playing solo, just using a Pro Controller, the game seemed to run fine, but when playing in handheld mode, the movement of the shapes is actually slower while the rest of the game runs at the "normal" speed which is at direct odds with the element of the game you are controlling. Why this happens, I do not know but I found it to make the game unplayable for me in portable mode once I discovered this, it is possible that this element might be patched out at some point though I suppose but if it was a conscious design choice then I would definitely question why it plays in such a manner which seems deliberately limiting.
Besides that though, it would seem that Deru is a perfect fit for the Switch, possibly even moreso than on other potential platforms and when you take into account the naturally co-operative gameplay on offer here, it really does make perfect sense, even though I think the game could possibly do with being around ten pounds in price as opposed to being closer to fifteen, but at over thirteen pounds it's awkwardly in the middle which might be a deciding factor for potential purchasers. It's still pretty good for a puzzle game which in the developers own words was inspired by the polarity mechanic from Ikaruga though.
Visually you really couldn't ask any more from this game as it has a clear art direction where you can see exactly what it's aiming for and it definitely achieves this, seemingly with ease. Colour plays a huge role in the gameplay, so differentiating the background with colourful gradients with some subtle patterns was clearly the right choice to make the black and white gameplay elements stand out in a clear way while also serving to add an overall cohesive feel which is very aesthetically pleasing.
Featuring a relaxing soundtrack which is unlike anything else I've heard before in a videogame, it paints an impressive soundscape throughout the entire progression of the game which feels natural, the basic storyline is told subtly throughout certain stages, but it's the music which plays a large role in conveying what's going on, without resorting to being overly dramatic; it's a soundtrack you simply have to sample yourself as part of the game. A special mention should also go to the audio as well, especially the sound effect which occurs when you interact with the streams, as you'll get mixture of static and soap lathering playing as one shape while other one sounds like an electrical buzzing, this is clever design which helps differentiate between each player which is useful and commendable.
Ink Kit as a studio is part of Mr. Whale's Game Services, which is a collective which produces games with novel mechanics and narratives. On that front I feel that Deru definitely falls within that mission statement, while gaining a charm which is all of it's own, but based on this title, I think Ink Kit Studios definitely have a bright future underneath this larger banner and with PR being handled by Piece of Cake Studios (who I am grateful to for supplying the review code) I hope that we will see more games made in the same creative vein in the future from this promising collective of creative teams.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Deru is the Co-Op game that demands communication, the solo title which will challenge your coordination and generally something to spark the imagination. Above all though, this is an excellent creation which is gratefully received as an excellent addition the growing Switch library and is a perfect fit for the console.
Beautifully composed soundtrack
Enjoyable solo, fun in Co-Op mode
Impressive level of presentation
Stylish visuals with clear art direction
Thoughtfully challenging gameplay
Gameplay seems unbalanced in portable mode
Might prove too tricky for some