Platforming can be a little tricky in 3D games. For some reason it just feels like you have less accuracy when controlling a character in a 3D space. But Contrast attempts to remedy this problem by adding a unique gameplay element: by using shadows, which are by their nature flat. So does it succeed in avoiding the problems of 3D platforming?
In Contrast you play as Dawn, a young woman who appears to be the imaginary friend of a girl named Didi. Dawn exists in this sort of parallel world, where only Didi can see her. But she has the special ability to Shift in & out of the shadows. Dawn uses these powers to help Didi overcome various obstacles as she attempts to help her broken family become whole again.
Most of Contrast’s platforming is done, not in the 3D world, but in the 2D shadow world. Dawn can Shift into any wall that has a light source, becoming one with the shadows. Here she can use the shadows as tangible aids to reach her goals. To that end, there are several tricks you can make use of. Sometimes you can manipulate items or light sources to shift the shadows to your benefit, or you can carry items into the shadows to make use of. Dawn can also perform a Dash, which allows her to move through thin shadows which normally block your path.
Narrative: Despite the existence of parallel worlds & shadow worlds, Contrast has a fairly down-to-earth storyline. Didi’s a little girl trying to help her family. In Act I she’s trying to get her mom & dad back together. In Act II she’s trying to help fix her dad’s circus. And in Act III she’s trying to meet her biological father. Maybe it’s because I’ve come from an at-times-broken family, but I really related to Contrast’s story. Surprisingly I liked Didi’s character. Normally I don’t like child characters but I thought she was portrayed well. She’s a likable character & avoids most of the problems I have with child characters while still acting like a kid. Also, while Dawn is your typical silent protagonist, we do learn about her origins in the last act that helps to flesh her out. And while none of the supporting characters get a lot of screen time, they manage to portray their unique personalities in the short time they’re there. So while it’s not the most epic or moving story, I think it’s one that most people will be able to relate to. Score: 4
Mechanics: For the most part, the game does its puzzle-platformer aspect fairly well. I like the idea of manipulating the environment in the physical world to affect the shadows & thus your platforming. For example, there was a section early in the game where you have to close picnic table umbrellas that are on timers to get perfectly timed platforms to reach a goal. Although a lot of times the platforming consists of just jumping on a different interpretations of a ramp to reach your goal, there are some unique sections that really make use of the whole shadow aspect. Some of the better examples are in the hotel where you manipulate elevators & fire alarms to reach the top floor, a Test Your Strength game where you have to stand on the gauge while some guy hits it, & a carousel. But my favorite parts were in Act II when you play as a princess puppet & have to play out the story in a shadow puppet play, & in Act III with the lighthouse where it really tests both your 2D & 3D platforming. But there are some problems. Although the Dash function is nice, I often got annoyed that you can’t control how far you dash. There were several times I Dashed too far & fell. I also feel that the game doesn’t do a good job of explaining to fact that you can manipulate objects in the shadow plain. Later in the game there are several puzzles that require you to Shift a box or cannonball into the shadows, leave it & then move the light source which also moves the item. But the game never properly addresses that this is a thing. Sure, it tells you that you can Shift objects, but not that you can move them by moving the shadows. Maybe it should’ve been obvious, but the first few times I encountered it I forgot. There’s also a problem when carrying items in general, where you can get stuck in free-fall after dropping a box & can’t move, particularly if you get knocked out of a shadow while carrying it. I never encountered a time when Dashing didn’t fix this, but it’s annoying nonetheless. So overall, the platforming typically works well but I felt they didn’t always use the shadow aspect to its full potential. Score: 3
Aesthetics: While Contrast doesn’t have the most detailed graphics, it does have its own style. The game does a good job of capturing that 1920’s feel & have a suitably moody atmosphere, but a lot of the environments feel a bit boring. Of course the lighting & shadows in the game are really well done. One good aspect is that the game makes it very clear what shadows you can Shift to, although these shadows are pretty solid-looking. I also liked that everyone except Dawn & Didi appear only as shadows in the game. But while it might be petty, I wasn’t crazy about Dawn’s design. I think it’s the circles of blush that throw me off. And I was disappointed in the music. After the awesome electro-swing & jazz pieces “Gimme That Swing” & “House of Fire,” I was expecting some cool music. But for the most part the music during the levels are forgettable. However, the voiceacting is pretty good, especially Vanessa Matsui & Elias Toufexis, who play Didi’s mom (Kat) & dad (Johnny). Score: 3
Replay Value: Low. The game is short, about three hours long. And there isn’t really a reason to play more than once unless you’re interested in getting all of the collectibles. But I don’t think there’s a reason to unless you’re an Achievement/Trophy hunter. However, the game does nicely divide its acts up into sections that you can replay individually once you’ve beaten the game. So if you have a favorite section you can replay that without having to go through the whole game again. Score: 3
Overall Score: 3
Final Word: While it has a very charming story & a unique idea, Contrast doesn’t use these ideas to their full advantage to give as good a performance as it could. Still, if you’re a fan of platformers, it’s not a bad game to check out.
Console: 360, PS3, PS4 & PC
Developer: Compulsion Games
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: November 15, 2013