Contrast is an indie puzzle-platformer game made by Compulsion Games, released in November 2013.
On a completely unrelated note, I just realized how recently the last few games that I have reviewed seem to have a puzzle or platform element. Not that it is a bad thing, I do immensely enjoy puzzle-platformers but I think the next review will have to be away from the puzzle-platformer. I feel my brain will possibly riot and rebel against me since Contrast had me feeling both like a genius and an utter idiot at some points….and I thought Portal 2 was mind-bending.
The first thing that caught my attention was the game’s music. The song that serves as the game’s theme song in particular, I actually don’t listen to jazz music but the particular style of music fits really well into the noir atmosphere of the game. If you are interested in hearing the game’s main theme, you can check it out via this link (Contrast – Kat’s Theme). I really enjoyed listening to the music since the world is set up to resemble a surreal version of the 1920s.
The game begins with you starting out in a room with some posters and pictures on the wall, with music playing and when you turn off the phonograph, you will watch a cut-scene. It becomes clear immediately that silent character you play as, does not seem to be in the same world as most of the people are with exceptions of the little girl named Didi who is the only one who can see you. You two are the only characters that are seen as 3D characters, as the others in the story only seen as 2D shadows. It is suggested through a collectible note that you are actually Didi’s imaginary friend which explains your ability to phase in and out of shadows,, as well the fact that no one else can see you other than Didi.
The main plot of the story is that Didi with the help of her imaginary friend, Dawn is trying to repair the relationship between her parents who have a rather fractured relationship with one another, for reasons unknown to Didi. Throughout the game the reasons for her parents split come to light, making Didi more determined to help her parents (mainly her father) and finding the truth out for herself, but more importantly get her parents to reconcile.
As Dawn, you have the ability to shift between realities which is the world of light and shadows. The world of light is represented in 3D while the world of shadows is 2D. Most of the game will revolve you solving puzzles using the two different realities to accomplishing your goal whether it is trying to reach a higher point, fixing a broken circus attraction or helping Didi to get across an obstacle. For example, you can manipulate a spotlight to shine light upon some objects which you use as platforms as a shadow to reach an inaccessible lever.
There are various collectibles throughout the game which adds more to the story, and characters that you often seen through the game; such as a family picture drawn by Didi or a letter that Didi’s mother has written begging child services to not take Didi away from her.
The concept of the two worlds was interesting, it did make platforming a little more intriguing since you have to shift and interact between both worlds to carry out your goal.
Contrast despite the solid concepts had some frustrating flaws. I often found myself being fully immersed in the game by enjoying the atmosphere, the slow pace of the game and music only to have that immersion shredded to pieces. It is a shame that Contrast has these flaws when Compulsion Games had worked so hard to build up the atmosphere and mood for the game.
The flaws often stem from the uncontrollable camera that zooms/lurches around wildly that you do not have much control over. Dawn’s movement can be erratic as well, making it difficult when trying to perform precision platforming. It made certain levels of the game hard that did require the precision. Like jumping over a gap that needed you to time your shifting between the two worlds seamlessly. Also there were times that I often had to restart a puzzle (the Lighthouse in particular) since I was unable to shift into the shadow world in time, apparently I was too far from the wall to shift when I was able to do so before without issues. Contrast also had technical issues when Dawn would get stuck inside walls or objects, although it was usually easily resolved by using one of Dawn’s special abilities, jumping or simply waiting for her to ‘wobble’ out.
Contrast does live up to its name, having players play with the world of lights and shadows. It is beautiful for the most part despite the issues that the game had, as well the frustration it caused me due to the issues. The soundtrack was probably what I enjoyed the most from the game, other than the story although I wasn’t too fond of the ending. It felt rather weak to me. The puzzles were pretty satisfying to solve although I wasn’t particularly fond of the pirate ship and clock-tower puzzles (and one in the lighthouse) but I did enjoy the shadow puppet theatre part of the game. I found it hilarious that Dawn has to use an umbrella to safely navigate her way past deadly spikes, reminding me of Mary Poppins. It just seems like that Contrast would have benefitted tremendously with more time spent polishing and optimizing the game, if Compulsion Games did that and not trying to get the game released in time for the milestone date, it might have reached its true potential.