Calm, collected, collaborative fun.
Good puzzle games toe a narrow line between the satisfaction of solving a difficult challenge versus frustration of being stuck after banging your head against a wall for an hour. Cooperative modes that require working hand-in-hand with a partner to complete a puzzle or obstacle otherwise impossible alone can compound this. Some like Snipperclips give you a goal and let you create the solution. Ones like Deru: The Art of Cooperation have a precise solution in mind, but require an imprecise path to reach it.
The objective of Deru is simple – move two shapes on screen, one black, one white. Levels consist of obstacles in the form of white or black streams you must traverse across in order to reach the end goals, which can block the stream of opposing colors. You may start a stage in a corner of the screen with a large stream of white creeping downward in the middle blocking your goal. The black shape could be used to block the stream so the white shape could reach the goal unharmed, then move the black shape to its goal afterwards. The obstacles get more complex, require quicker movement, necessitate coordinated timing, and get littered with moving targets. Eventually the ability to transfer mass from one shape to the other is introduced, affecting both size and speed. The title is misleading in that I found it perfectly playable, and in some ways, preferable to have this experience solo. Deru has a very quiet presentation both visually and tonally – this is not a party game as much as a mellow, zen experience of coordinating movement of the two separate shapes on screen towards goal. If you have a partner with you, calm cooperation is key in order to progress. I personally found my favorite way of playing to be handheld with headphones in, taking in the atmospheric music and linking movement of each shape with a separate Joy-Con.
That is, until I encountered a limitation that could gate you from playing through this way entirely. In handheld mode, shapes move considerably slower than the speed they travel while docked. Several levels in, I experienced a level that required swifter movement, which was impossible to pass through because while the shapes were slower and the obstacles were roughly the same speed. I leave open the possibility that I overlooked a way to get past this obstacle in handheld, but when I then proceeded to dock the Switch, I quickly beat that level, which leads me to believe that at this time, the game is not beatable in handheld. While this didn’t completely sour my experience, it’s worth noting for those who may play primarily mobile.
Deru: The Art of cooperation is a delightfully relaxing puzzle-solving experience that leans into its tone and provides a mellow fun whether you’re sitting alone or with a friend on the couch. The levels are challenging without being aggravating and it’s clear just as much thought was put into its presentation. I just don’t expect you’ll be playing this at a rooftop party with Karen anytime soon.