Developer: Angler Games
Available On: XBLIG
Co-Op Mode: Local (2 players)
Price: 80 MS Points ($1)
Demo w/ Co-Op Available: Yes
The cooperative puzzle platformer has seen something of a rise over the past couple of years. There was Trine in 2009 that took us back to days of games like The Lost Vikings, which was then followed by Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light and Trine 2. When Portal 2 was released, its cooperative mode helped propel this along further as the insanity of creating portals to teleport you just about anywhere only doubled when you had to work together with someone else to do it. This degree of insanity was present in the recently released A Virus Named Tom, too. While Angeler Games’ Divided doesn't quite keep up with the same degree of insanity, the precise coordination and teamwork that is oft required in all of those titles is at the heart of the game's co-op mode. It is not, however, the most interesting/fun aspect of this particular one.
The overall goal of Divided is to successfully navigate a blue blob thing through the game’s eight levels while collecting smaller blob things and avoiding red blob things/spikes/other hazards. It’s a crude summation, but the fun and appeal of the game lies in its implementation. The aforementioned blue blob thing is able to split itself into two smaller blue blobs, which is required to solve many of the puzzles and successfully traverse the level. These blobs are controlled by using the left thumbstick and left bumper (to jump) for one, and the right thumbstick and right bumper for the other. Thus, at its core, Divided is a game that challenges a player to complete a level by controlling two characters at the same time. It’s a whole “rub your belly and pat your head at the same time” kind of scenario and it's not easy to get the blobs' movements in sync when required.
What adds to this challenge is that you’re not always controlling two characters. Sometimes it’s just one. So it’s not like you have a chance to fully adjust yourself to thinking with both parts of your brain at the same time. You’re constantly swapping back and forth between one and two playable characters, in addition to figuring out the solution to the latest puzzle. It can be a lot to process and execute at once. When you do pull it off, though, the feeling is incredibly satisfying. The reward you get is not only the usual one that comes with game progression, but one of overcoming what feels like a physical/mental limitation as well.
When playing with a friend, that self-satisfaction is replaced with the joy of working cooperatively, something we certainly are fans of at this site. The second player can join in at any time when the main blue blob splits into the two smaller ones. Each player controls one of the smaller blobs and is responsible for keeping it safe from the red blobs/spikes/other hazards as the death of one means the death of the other. Working with a friend in Divided is fun and many of the puzzles/challenges of the game translate well when going from solo play to cooperative play.
However, playing cooperatively does change the overall dynamic of the gameplay. As you’re no longer attempting to work to get your hands/brain going in the same direction, more time is spent focusing on the puzzles and synchronizing movements between players. Spending this degree of focus on just the puzzles, then, leads to the realization that some of the sections previously encountered when playing solo (or encountered for the first time) aren’t nearly as challenging. There’s still some satisfaction to be had with successful coordination and getting through the section, but the challenge to achieve it is less. The greatest rewards often come after facing and overcoming the hardest challenges and in this area, Divided's co-op is a little lacking. Additionally, for those moments when you have to become one big blue blob again, the second player is essentially left doing nothing. Not a lot of fun in that. Fortunately, these moments are few and brief.
Amongst the rising tide of cooperative puzzle platform games there also comes independent titles like Divided. Its attempts to get players to engage in the game with their whole brain are interesting and provide a new form of challenge to a medium that is usually limited to cranking up the artificial difficulty level. If Angler Games could have worked in a further split of the blobs into 4 smaller one for the cooperative mode so that each player was faced with the same challenge that a solo player encounters, then there would have been a really amazing game here. Imagine trying to coordinate a successful progression across an open pit of death while telling your partner, "ok, when I move my right blob, you jump with your left one over there and your right one over there while I press this switch with my left one." Insane co-op fun.
Even without that, Divided is still a fresh approach to the genre and worth checking out.
Co-Op Experience: Work with a friend as you both control a couple of blobs just trying to make it through spike pits, evil red blobs, and other hazards
Divided is Ideal For: Fans of puzzle platform games with a slight twist