ONCE IN AWHILE a game with a truly unique mechanic comes out of nowhere, and both intrigues and inspires me with its imagination. A world of shadows, where the player can leap from 3D into a 2D plane, is what Contrast promises. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first started playing. Would it be able to deliver on its whimsical premise?
CONTRAST IS A puzzle/platform game where you can move between a fantastic 3D world and a mysterious shadowy universe in 2D in the blink of an eye. Delve into a dreamlike and surreal 1920s world, inspired by the performance art world of vaudeville and film noir, and cradled by a smooth and sultry jazz ambiance- contrast-thegame.com/
CONTRAST WAS DEVELOPED by Compulsion Games and published by Focus Home Interactive.
SET DURING THE ROARING 20s, the story of Contrast follows a little girl named Didi. She has a wild imagination and is always seeking new and interesting adventures. You play as Didi’s shadow companion, Dawn. Dawn is like an imaginary friend. She has the ability to shift in and out of shadows, allowing her to reach, otherwise, impossible places. Together, Didi and Dawn attempt to mend a broken family.
YOU HAVE FULL CONTROL over Dawn, with the ability to jump, run, and move in 360 degrees. You eventually gain the ability to dash, which not only darts you from place to place, but can also destroy barriers, open up new locations, and allows you to blitz past narrow shadow walls.
HER MOST ADVANTAGEOUS ability is leaping in and out of shadows. You’ll spend the majority of the game shifting into, and out of, walls, to solve puzzles. During puzzle segments, you will need to adjust light sources, like lamps or pushcarts, to manipulate the shadows around you. There are also objects, like boxes. These can either be placed near a light, to manipulate shadows to your needs, or you can hold it, shift into a shadow, and use it in the shadow world.
YOU ALSO MUST GATHER glowing orbs of light, known as Luminaries. Luminaries are scattered throughout the twisted world of Contrast and are used in place of batteries. From time to time, you will find machines that need around 3 Luminaries, in order for them to work. There are also glowing items, like a microphone or film reel. When touched, they create a light source of their own, which cast shadows of events that have happened, like Did being tucked in, or the father getting his face brutalized by a thug. During these brief sequences, you can shift onto the shadows, which allows you to collect Luminaries, in hard to reach places.
ANYTHING YOU CAN interact with is always delineated with dancing sparks of light. Some are objects that you need, to solve puzzles, like switches, while others are Collectibles. Collectibles are photos, slips of paper, or newspaper clippings, that give you insight into the history of Didi’s family, about the world, and the inhabitants of Contrast.
WHEN YOU DIE you simply start over again. There aren’t any lives or a health bar, you simply move forward, and if you fail, you get right back up and start anew. The game saves automatically.
THE 3D, IN CONTRAST, is pretty good. Models have a great amount of detail, animate well, and the textures throughout have a lot of subtle definition. The world is a twisted mess, with streets torn apart, chairs floating, tables, and other random items turning round and round in mid-air. Everything is gritty, dirty, covered in grime, and there’s an untold story to the different locations, that tell a tale of their own.
THE REST OF THE PEOPLE, or what you can see of them, are all made up of shadows. You never see their bodies, at all. The only people that you can truly see are Dawn and Didi. The rest of the world show up in the form of black silhouettes, usually projected onto a wall, or some form of makeshift surface. These shadows have decent animation, and each has its own persona that you can see, strictly in their movements as they gesture and strut about.
THE CONCEPT AND USE of shadows are brilliant. I haven’t played a game that deals with a mechanic quite like Contrast, and the way you interact with light sources to adjust shadows is amazing! Skipping from a 3D plane to a 2D plane lends itself to a lot of different possibilities, and took me a while to adjust to shifting back and forth.
THE CHARACTERS and dialogue are great. Didi is cute, adorable, and her voice quips throughout the whole game are a joy to listen to. One of my favorite conversations in the game was during Kat and Johnny’s –Didi’s parents– first meeting. This game had me at “kiddo” and “jitterbug”.
ART DIRECTION and character designs are also really nice. Dawn is a tall, vaudevillian, acrobat with long legs, a wavy quaff of hair, striped stockings, a tight bodice, and cheeks painted like a clown. Didi wears a flowing skirt, a cardigan has an adorable little face, and has wild waves of black hair. The shadows are also all differentiated very well with their specific silhouettes. Kat’s body type is similar to Jessica Rabbit, Johnny has his fedora and business suite, the thugs are wide and stocky, while Vincenzo looks the part of a magician with his overcoat and tall top hat.
MUSIC is fantastic! It has a smooth, jazz, 1920’s vibe, and sets an amazing tone for the rest of the story. When Contrast starts, and the main theme begins playing, “You went and left me, but you never really leave me…” the game already has you. This, along with the chiming sound effects, and the amazing world, set a mysterious, enchanting tone, that continues into the rest of the adventure. I wish there was more to explore in the world of Contrast because it’s pretty amazing.
THE TALE OF DIDI, Dawn, and the shadow world was pretty interesting. Especially during the end. The story is cute, has some serious themes I wasn’t expecting, and the conclusion will leave you wondering. In a good way. Seriously, I need to write my thoughts on the ending, cause I really need to talk to someone about it! I think I’ll devote another article to it? It’s a great story, I just wish that there was more to it.
SPEAKING OF THE STORY, Contrast is really linear. While the story has enough wonder to keep you moving forward, you can’t really deviate from the set path. This is an amazing world, and I would have loved to explore more of it! But as it stands, there are no side missions, extra quests, or bonus adventures. Sadly, it is also really short, and it’s possible to beat it in a sitting or two.
THE CONTROLS WERE a bit fuzzy and buggy. Jumping was always touch and go, since there were times Dawn wouldn’t land on an object, would miss it completely, or would slip off the side. Also, shifting into shadows needed a bit more polish. There were moments when I could leap into a shadow. Other times there were shadows that I couldn’t enter. I could never tell the difference. Jumping, as with the 3D moments, was a bit cumbersome during the shadow sequences. I would constantly be ejected, and would slip off objects, and would jump past, or fall off, ledges. I also found myself getting stuck in the scenery, every now and then.
THE GAMEPLAY PACING was also choppy, with a lot of stop and go. It felt like do this, stop, then watch a cut scene. And just when I was enjoying the free-flowing aspect of exploring, Dawn would stop, and another cut scene would run. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the cut scenes and the story. They were pretty good! But I just wish that transition between play and cutscene would have been a little less jarring.
CONTRAST IS A GREAT GAME with a few hiccups that keep it from being perfect. The 3D world and shadow world are great ideas, and the unique tale of shadows, a little girl, and an imaginary friend will keep you intrigued till the very end. Puzzles are challenging, Didi is adorable, and it’s well worth your time to play.
THANK YOU SO MUCH for reading. Have you played Contrast? What did you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! As always, keep that imagination kicking! Please take care all, you rock. Cheers!