Contrast is an interesting game, from all aspects. The environment, art style, storyline, puzzle mechanics, and nearly everything else about this game is just interesting, to put it simply. Sometimes, this is a good thing, as it allows Contrast to provide a new experience. At the same time, other aspects are just a little too interesting, and it’s easy to get lost. In the end, Contrast is a decent game, but the concepts presented in the game aren’t fleshed out enough to really make anything about it shine. This is a shame because Contrast has a lot of potential, and a sequel that fixes these issues could be an absolutely amazing puzzler.
As I mentioned before, Contrast is a puzzle game. the main mechanic at work is that the main character, Dawn, has the ability to shift into the second dimension: shadows. If a light is shining on an object, the shadow it casts might just create a perfect platform for you to jump onto while in the second dimension, and from there, back to a balcony in the third dimension. Dawn has the ability to pop between dimensions anytime there’s a shadow along a wall to walk on, and she can even shift certain objects between dimensions as well. The ability to shift dimensions is really amazing because it allows for a completely new plane of play; it, quite literally, adds a new dimension to gameplay, pun intended.
The puzzles in Contrast are pretty inventive, for the most part. Each puzzle felt decidedly different, and a new combination of skills was needed each time. For example, in one section, I had to crank the steering wheel of a pirate ship that cast a shadow on a wall. As the wheel unwound, the shadow turned just like the wheel did; I used this opportunity to shift into the shadow, ride one of the shadow spokes like a Ferris Wheel, and get to a higher level. Here, I jumped into the third dimension, grabbed a ledge, and hoisted myself up onto a platform. Then, I grabbed a box sitting on the platform, walked back to the wall, shifted into the second dimension with the box in hand, then dropped it on a spoke. The spoke carried the box across a section that couldn’t be crossed in the third dimension, and deposited it on another platform, which opened a door when the box popped back into the third dimension. Ta-da! Magic!
Honestly, there were multiple times in the game where I would simply stare at the wall and wonder how to cross a section before realizing that if I shifted at a certain time or shifted with a certain object in hand or moved a certain spotlight to a specific location to change the size and shape of the shadow, it might just work. Contrast’s puzzles always kept me on my toes, and although some were quite difficult, the answers were always right in front of me, if only I paid close enough attention. I really like this approach to problem solving; nothing was really hidden. It was just a matter of how to use the resources given to me. These are the puzzles that make me feel ecstatic upon solving; it’s that “Eureka!” moment where it all becomes clear and I feel like a success for actually being able to do it.
My first complaint, however, arises from the length of the game. I finished Contrast in a little under 4 hours, and by no means was I speedrunning or a very quick problem solver. If I were to play it again while skipping cutscenes and nixing all exploration, I could probably finish the game in about an hour and a half, given the fact that I now know the puzzles. The length of the game in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the problem is that because the game is so short, mechanics and concepts never have the chance to really develop. If a concept is learned halfway through Contrast, you might only get to/have to use it a couple times because the game is so short. If there were a few more puzzles to solve in Contrast, the great concepts presented could really have been fleshed out, and intricate, yet somewhat “simple” puzzles could have been meticulously crafted.
Contrast is set in 1920’s France, where vaudeville and the mafia seem to rule. The main characters are DiDi, a little girl, and her “imaginary friend” named Dawn. DiDi’s mom, Kat, sings at nightclubs to make money since she kicked her husband out, and DiDi likes to sneak out to watch, with Dawn’s help. Apparently, nobody can see Dawn except DiDi; this is important to note. Anyhow, when DiDi gets to the theatre, she sees her mom and dad arguing; Johnny claims that with a new development he’s working on, things will get better, and that Kat should take him back. She disagrees, and they go their separate ways; DiDi follows her dad to an “investors” meeting, which is really just a couple of high-rolling mafia members who will fund Johnny’s circus, but if it fails and he can’t pay them back, it’s the end of the line for him. The game centers on helping Johnny put on the circus to keep him alive and to hopefully reunite the family. I can’t go into more detail than this, or else I’ll be spoiling to story.
The problem with this storyline is that it sometimes doesn’t make sense. For example, every character in Contrast is a shadow, and only a shadow, except for two people: Dawn and DiDi. Dawn is thought to be the only person who can shift dimensions, yet she’s just an imaginary friend, but as the story progresses, you might think she isn’t as imaginary as once believed. On the other hand, DiDi is a 3D character, and she cannot shift into the shadow dimension, even though both of her parents are shadows. DiDi is the only person in the whole game who is 3D; how does that even happen? Why isn’t she a shadow? How is Dawn real, but not real, and only a couple people can see her? Why is everyone a shadow except a couple people? How are 3D items like houses and roads built if everyone is a shadow, and they can’t pop items between dimensions?
These canonical imperfections are somewhat glaring, and they really don’t make sense; I became disconnected from the story as it went along. For about 75% of the game, the story hooked me. I wanted to learn about DiDi’s family. The voice acting was spot on, and all the emotions to craft a realistic story was there. But then, as the tale began to conclude, everything became a train wreck, and Contrast lost me; I became confused and I was no longer attached to the story.
On another disappointing note, the controls for Contrast were very loose; many times I would move in a fashion I did not intend to move, which would throw off the whole puzzle. Other times, I wouldn’t shift into a dimension even though I clicked the button; I would fall to my death instead. Once or twice, the game seemed to have forgotten which dimension I was in. For example, there was a corner that could only be rounded as a shadow… yet when I became a shadow, it seemed like Contrast still thought I was 3D, so it wouldn’t let me round the corner, and I died. Oops.
More positively, the music and art style definitely fit the mood perfectly. I enjoyed the jazzy overtones the music provided; of course, this was the prominent genre of music in the 1920’s. Mixed with the noir sort of art style, it created a dark, somewhat solemn mood for a tale that really wasn’t a happy one. The tone and mood of Contrast are sort of eerie, but they are interesting and fun to experience. When the storyline, art design, colors, and music come together, Contrast becomes an engaging and delightfully genuine experience. Heck, even the text font contributes; the subtitles look like they were written by an old typewriter! It’s simply a shame that everything doesn’t come together often enough, maybe because of touchy controls ruining a puzzle, a canonical quirk, or something else that altered the way the game should be enjoyed.
With all of this being said, Contrast is a good game with a TON of potential for a sequel. The 2D/3D/Dimension Shifting concept is a great one, and although the storyline sort of fell apart near the end, there are enough unanswered questions about Dawn’s past to warrant a sequel/prequel about her life. Luckily, Contrast is a free download; although I enjoyed the game, I wouldn’t buy it, nor would I pay for a sequel. However, if Contrast gets a second chance, and these issues (which can be easily remedied) are taken care of, a hypothetical Contrast 2 could definitely be a Game of The Year contender at release. It’s simply a shame that Contrast has these issues to begin with.
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