Placed in mid 1920s Paris, contrast is a puzzle platformer about a young girl, Didi, and her constant battle to bring her separated parents back together. You, as the protagonist i.e. Dawn, help Didi to pull her family back together.
Contrast revolves around a young girl, Didi, and her escapades with her imaginary friend, Dawn. Didi’s mom and dad are separated and Didi hasn’t taken it that well emotionally, but her emotions don’t impair her intellect and she still wants to find a solution to their separation. Hence, she sneaks out at night with the prime motive of watching her mom’s singing performances but, probably, also in hope to see her dad there and help him back home by solving the financial crisis he got himself into. Didi is often stuck with some errands that she is unable to complete. This is where Dawn, her imaginary friend, kicks in. Dawn helps Didi run those errands as she can shift into the shadow world from the real world and vice-versa. This given her the edge to reach places she and Didi normally couldn’t. By changing the light source’s position Dawn can manipulate the shadows so as to reach the places she wants to reach.
_Dawn manipulating shadows._
Adding a touch to Dawn’s ability and genuineness of her being imaginary , no one but Didi can see Dawn and Dawn can only see Didi as a real entity; everyone else is a shadow to her, which Dawn uses to her advantage.
Throughout the game, Contrast tries to leave a message but somehow fails at it terribly. The game keeps trying to reach something deeper and, apparently, darker than what it seems to be on the surface, but it is just not able to reveal its inner self. Apart from the undelivered message, the storyline is pretty basic, very short and nothing extraordinary or unique. It’s about a young girl trying to pull her family back together with the help of her imaginary friend Dawn. Dawn, being able to transform into shadow form and back, is able to help Didi run errands. These errands mostly include opening some paths for Didi and can also include fixing some things that help the storyline move forward. The most interesting concept of Contrast disappointed me the most. The entire concept of Dawn being able to convert herself into a shadow then back to a real entity at any time, and nobody being able to see Dawn and her only being able to see everyone’s shadows, is left quite bizarrely unexplained at the end. The ending is very disappointing to say the least. The only impressing feats of the storyline are the dialogues and the strong characters, except Dawn, who seems like a pretty empty character. She should have been darker, if that’s what the game was trying to pull. Contrast does however bring a uniquely interactive style of storytelling: instead of cutscenes the story continues with the characters being depicted as large shadows on the wall, usually creating a way for Dawn to reach places she need to. Although this style of storytelling is not entirely consistent throughout the game, I still like it and it directly interacts with the gameplay.
As Contrast is centered on shadows and Dawn’s ability to transform into one, the graphics are very intense and dreamlike when Dawn is in a puzzle, or we can say near a light source, so as to make it easier to distinct between light and shadow. When Dawn is not in a puzzle the colors are pretty washed off. The overall representation of mid 1920s Paris is really beautiful and artsy, even though the entire city is empty.
_Empty but beautiful city._
If anyone has ever noticed, when small good qualities are added to a certain dark character it complements the character, provided it is done correctly. Well, Contrast did it pretty perfectly, but sadly it didn’t utilize it completely. Adding slow-paced, soft and soothing jazz to a rather dark environment actually complemented the entire setup in a huge way. Though featured disappointingly less throughout the gameplay, the background scores accentuate the little darkness that there is to the game. They feature the magnificent and sultry voice of Laura Ellis. The game had many moments where these, or as a matter of fact any, background scores could have been featured but they weren’t. This made those moments feel a little empty and, perhaps if the developers had focused more on adding perfect background scores at the perfect moment, the game could have been as dark as they wanted it to be.
Gameplay and Mechanism:
These days, the most common problem with indie games is their gameplay and mechanism, and Contrast doesn’t disappoint. Contrast, along with many other indie games out there, is not able to provide a solid and sturdy gameplay experience that every gamer out there deserves. The gameplay switch between the 2D shadow world and 3D exploration world is a great idea if it had it been executed perfectly, but the game gets a lot of bugs in this aspect of gameplay. Sometimes, Dawn gets stuck at certain places while switching between the two worlds and getting her out either requires a lot of dashing or restarting the game. At some places, the puzzle requires Dawn to cross a gap between two shadows. This can get really annoying as Dawn has to change into normal form (which is automatic) and then back to shadow form to enter the second shadow area. To enter the second area Dawn must be really close to the wall on which the shadow is formed or it won’t work.
_Crossing a gap between two shadows._
Contrast also lacks development of characters’ power. Throughout the game only one new power is introduced to Dawn: dashing. To add to the simplicity, the puzzles in the game are really easy and don’t get you bashing your head in the wall or brainstorming for hours at all. What’s more annoying is the constant requirement of light orbs to power some mechanisms required for the puzzle. If these were placed on route or planted in the puzzle itself or were at least marked on the map then it would’ve been fine, but it becomes a headache to go out of your way to find these just to power a mechanism.
I would definitely say that controlling Dawn is the challenge this game brings, rather than solving puzzles. Her movements are too unreliable and digital. She either walks too slowly or runs too fast which makes controlling her very hard. Most of the times, I knew how to solve the puzzle but it took me multiple tries just to execute that plan with Dawn. To top that off, the camera is messed up. It is not entirely locked to Dawn; you have to wrestle with it in order to view what you want to view, especially while moving.
Contrast pack a lot of hidden potential with its beauty, out-of-the-box storytelling and gameplay but it fails horribly at using that potential. While not the worse puzzle platformer out there, Compulsion Games should have taken some more time with this one.