Platformer, Light Puzzle Solver
$10(15), PC, PlayStation (3 and 4), Xbox (360 and One)
Contrast was a title that came across somewhat randomly on Steam. It shared a few earmarks with other games I had invested time in. So I checked the page out and thought it was interesting enough to put on my wish list. I recently grabbed it, and finished it before I realized it.
Didi is a young girl being raised solely by her mother, Kat. A powerhouse of a singer, she performs at a cabaret club known as Ghost Note. Making money means being out all night, and Didi often follows her mother to her exasperation and to the chagrin of child services. As Kat heads off to perform once more she draws a promise from Didi for the young girl to remain at home. However, as soon as Kat is gone, Didi turns to Dawn to get out and explore the city.
While Didi is the focus of the story, we the players take control of Dawn. Didi is the only person who can perceive Dawn. The enigmatic woman is lauded as an acrobat. She also has the unique ability to navigate the world via shadows. This reinforces the story as much of it is from Didi’s perspective. Can you remember living at home with your parents and overhearing a conversation that wasn’t meant for you? As Didi, and Dawn by extension, are sneaking around and eavesdropping truth comes from the shadows. Aside from the Protagonist Pair, all other people in the world are seen as illuminated shadows or figures in portraits.
Personally, I found the game to be lovingly made. The world is rife with rich detail. You could likely clear the whole game in two hours, achievements and all. For this, each chapter feels hand made. Didi’s room is seen twice in the game. Some exteriors are accessible outside their respective chapters. But otherwise, all the settings and set pieces are unique. Those that indulge in a look will see a somewhat shattered world. I feel it is, like much of the game, a deliberate choice. Is it the disjointed viewpoint of a child’s imagination? Is the nature of reality being debated betwixt the light and shadows? Is just just more clever than having invisible walls?
Contrast evokes the feel of the Roaring 20s. Every element builds up the setting. The overall noir feel is reinforced by the characters, how they speak, and the power of their silohettes. The music has all the right flares. I can imagine hearing it through a gramophone, vinyl scratches and all. The building designs have the feel of being built to last. Even the sepia tones of the shadow platforming reflects film quality of the time. A lot of subtle cues overlap to immerse the players into the world.
The music in each of the puzzle segments is spot on and serves reinforce the set pieces. Listening to it on its own via the soundtrack can be repetitive, but such is the way of game music.
Counter to repetitiveness, I was introduced to Laura Ellis thanks to this game. Ellis’ vocals gave Kat her punch as a performer. Kat’s Song, heard on the intro menu, and House on Fire, which played during Kat’s performance at Ghost Note, are memorable in their own rights. Laura Ellis’ singing ties together an era of cabarets, gangsters, and shady back room deals.
The puzzles in the game will have Dawn jumping in and out of shadows. In some cases, arranging how light is cast to manipulate the length, shape, and movements of the shadows. If you ever played some key titles in The Legacy of Kain game series, Defiance and the Soul Reaver games to be precise, recall Raziel’s manipulation of the Physical Realm to effect the Spectral Realm.
While very short, everything is put together well. The game never lagged and was a smooth experience all the way through. Checkpoints are plentiful enough that a fall won’t set you back too far. New mechanics are explained as they are acquired. Once you are into the game, it is a brain teasing jaunt to the end.
This is the one area where the game could be said to be lacking. I dithered around and tinkered with different parts of the game knowing that I was going to write a review. I finished the game at around two hours. I got to around three hours achievement hunting. I jumped back in to take some screenshots. I am just at four hours of game play. And unless I feel the need for more screenshots that’s where I’ll stay. Outside of a platforming segment I hopped, skipped, and jumped around most of the solutions are fairly straightforward. I may revisit the tale in the far future when I do not remember it so clearly. While short, Contrast will stick with you. This is both good and bad in terms of replaying.
The game only allows for a single play of the game at a time. However, collectibles seem to be saved independently so once found they are permanent. Also, you can choose to return to any chapter once completed. As the game is so short you don’t need multiple save files.
Contrast has everything I love in a game. It is an original intellectual property, a clean cut story, consistent and tangible setting, wonderful music, with intuitive and responsive game controls. I like games like this, especially from lesser known companies. It shows they can deliver a finished product and, if given the materials, what they would do on a grander scale.
Already Compulsion Games is presently developing We Happy Few with Early Access now. I’ve seen many streamers and YouTube personalities cover this game. Compulsion Games have proven they’ve got what it takes, and it is being recognized by this larger project.
Contrast is, as near as I can tell, Compulsion Games’ first showing. They did a wonderful job and I am happy to have spent a scant few hours with this game, and I look forward to more work from this group.
Slideshow images taken from within game by author
Other images from Compulsion Games, Contrast website, and related press kit