Contrast is a unique spin on the puzzle/platformer genre, rather than sticking to tradition like LIMBO or Braid, Contrast adopts a 2D meets 3D approach that, while ambitious, ultimately falls short of what could have been.
Set in a 20’s Noir style atmosphere in the year 1923, Contrast sets you in the role of Dawn, an imaginary friend of Didi, the game’s main focus. Didi’s mother works as a sultry singer at the local adult club, and is often away at night. So Didi, being a curious young lady, sets out to watch her mother perform, utilising the help of her imaginary friend Dawn.
This is where the mechanics of the game come into play, Dawn has the ability to shift into well lit walls as a shadow, using the already existing shadows cast by various objects in the world as platforms to reach usually unreachable platforms and buildings. This also works for other such things as using the light to turn into a shadow in order to pass through a glass wall, as well as turning otherwise 3D objects into 2D shadows by taking them into the wall with you.
Many of the puzzles that present themselves in Contrast are rather clever, but are often let down by a clunky engine that often fails you, forcing you to restart the whole chapter. There were repeated times that putting down a box either resulted in the box flying randomly in the air and getting stuck on something so I couldn’t pull it back down, or just being stuck on the box itself after dropping it.
There are also some missed opportunities with Didi, as at the start of the game she offers to use a spotlight to help you traverse a few gaps in order to make it to the next part of the game, though for 95% of the rest of the game she just sits there and has you fend for yourself. It’s a minor complaint, but utilising some shadows cast by Didi in a few more puzzles would have made the interaction between Didi and Dawn all the better and would have helped develop the relationship between the two.
Speaking of Dawn, our protagonist is a gymnast by trade, though not once does she utter a single word. There is no mention of whether she’s unable to speak, or if it’s because she’s imaginary or anything, which in the latter half of the game becomes a disappointment as we learn some slight details of Dawn’s past.
Though following Didi around and helping her in her attempts to reunite her Jessica Rabbit imitation mother with her down on his luck, scheming, well-meaning father is an intriguing story. All of Didi’s family, as well as all other characters represented in the game, are shadows cast on the wall, while Didi is trapped in the 3D plane, this is never really explored in the game all that well either (aside from some notes here and there found in the last 20 minutes of the game).
The graphical style of Contrast is very beautiful, Compulsion Games have taken many drab lifeless colours and have successfully created an intriguing world around them. It’s a very striking game that blends a 1920’s French Art Deco with a Noir feel. The only two 3D characters in the game, Dawn and Didi, move rather stiffly however, which detracts a little from the game when all of the shadows move so smoothly.
The game only lasts about 4 hours, 5 if you include the amount of times it glitched out on me and I had to reset the game. This includes finding all of the collectables and obtaining all trophies. For twenty odd smackaroos you’ll need to take into consideration whether the experience alone is worth the price of entry, as this is the shortest game I’ve played in the past five years.
Because of the shortness of the game itself, I was left feeling like I wanted more out of it, strictly speaking the moments where you are a shadow on the wall. In one particular section of the game, Dawn is tasked to act as a shadow puppet, and defeat a number of large mythical beasts. The segment lasted about twenty minutes and was the absolute best part of the game. It’s a shame that more time was spent in the 3D plane looking for your next puzzle than it was mixing the 2D and 3D as an actual puzzle itself.
Contrast is a beautiful game marred by glitches and a short lifespan. While I was left feeling all kinds of things from the striking art style to the 1920’s music, it was always quickly interrupted by Dawn doing something weird like being attached to a box or sending one sky high (why is it always a box that causes problems?).
If you were a fan of games like LIMBO and are looking for something a bit different, Contrast may offer you something. Ultimately though, I would be waiting for when Sony puts it up in one of its many sales it has on the PlayStation Network. I would however, love it if Compulsion Games decided to do a sequel to Contrast, because the story left me hanging, and I’d love to see a newer title without so many glitches.