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Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Compulsion Games
Developer: Compulsion Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Platformer (3D)/ Platformer (2.5D)/ Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:

When I first saw a gameplay video of Contrast, I was immediately intrigued. The game is set in a film-noir (or vintage French film) version of Paris, France. The feel reminded me a bit of The Saboteur, coupled with surreal environments that reminded me a bit of Psychonauts and innovative perspective-shifting gameplay that had a smack of Echochrome to it.

This perspective-shifting gameplay allows you to switch between platforming in the "real" world and jumping into a mode where you become a shadow on the wall, allowing you to cross otherwise impassable obstacles by interacting with the shadows of objects in the environment, which can be drastically different from the actual physical orientation in the environment.

With the exception of your character, Dawn, and Didi, the girl she looks after, all of the characters in the game are completely invisible - at least to you. You can only see their shadows and, as mentioned above, you can shift into the shadows and climb their shadows to reach your objectives.

The voicework is excellently done and the story is compelling, leading you to wonder, theorize and even fear exactly what this strange world that you're in may, in fact, be... It's certainly not the reality with which we're familiar in our day to day lives.

The sets are beautifully illustrated and highly stylized and the music is delightful from beginning to end. It's very soulful and jazzy.


You are Dawn, a lithe, athletic French girl who is best friends with Didi, a little girl whose mother is poor and trying to make it as an rising lounge singer and whose estranged father "might be back some day." Another thing that makes Dawn fairly unique is the fact that she is the only other person you can see. Yup, that's right; everyone else in the world is apparently invisible to you - you can only see them at all by the shadows they cast. Not only that, it seems no one else can see you; you're often referred to as Didi's imaginary friend...

That's not all, though - you have the ability to "shift" into a shadow form by going close to a wall lit by a bright wall and then shifting into your own shadow. When you do this, you are constrained by the two-dimensional surface that the shadow appears on. You can move around in the lit area, but you're bound by the shadows on the border of the light. Cast shadows become your obstacles and your platforms and the camera angle becomes much more constrained, as if you've jumped into a side-scroller. At times, it seems that's exactly what you've done.

You will be faced with puzzles that force you to change the way you think about light and shadow, considering each problem from the viewpoint of the three dimensional world you're used to, into a combination of 2D and 3D. It can be an interesting challenge to wrap your mind around, but the presentation is nicely done and the penalty for dire mistakes is never too stern as to cause frustration.


I finished Contrast in just around three hours. As you might imagine, any game that can be completed in that amount of time probably wouldn't have time to cause too much frustration. This is true of Contrast, with really only two places that slowed me down a bit. On one occasion, there was a place I had decided (after several failed attempts) that a certain jump was impossible and I found another way to progress that I was convinced could be done. I never made it this other way, although I'm still convinced it's a possible path, but J.R. Nip jumped in for a bit and made the original (impossible) jump and got me back on (the) track to complete the game. The other point that proved difficult was very near the end and required that you jump across a very deep chasm and then "shift" into the shadows when you reach the other side. I realize it should have been much easier for me than it was - especially by that point in the game - but, for whatever reason, I kept plunging to my death. It. Was. Hilarious. Eventually, it was a self-defeating process, as I was still laughing about falling to my death from the last time when I attempted the jump again. The load times were quick enough to avoid this being overly frustrating and the music wasn't even very abrupt; it seemed that I would almost always die just as a stanza ended and the music picked up the same way it had the time before. Part of the reason I was laughing was that I was imagining my wife hearing this music from the game and figured she just thought the music was supposed to sound that way.

As for adjusting the difficulty... no. There are no difficulty levels to set - just play the game and, should you find something difficult... practice it some. The controls aren't very difficult - you don't even have any way to attack anything. You just jump, shift into shadows, activate objects in the environment and, occasionally, pick things up. The only other thing you can do is to dash, which, when in shadows, will allow you to pass through smaller shadows that are in your way and, when you're not in shadows, allows you to dash in a direction and break through certain weak barriers. Further, when you pick something up and you're holding it, you can't jump. That's pretty much it on the actions. The trick to the harder puzzles comes in figuring out what you need to move, how you need to jump, where to get a box to put on a pressure switch and that sort of thing.

There are sparkles of light that float around and indicate items you can interact with, collectibles you can collect and "luminaries," which are used to power up certain things in the game. The items are usually pivotal in solving puzzles, the collectibles give you more details on the back story and the luminaries will be needed to power up things to allow you to solve puzzles and advance. Mind you, the game can be finished without getting all of the luminaries, but you must use them to proceed, so if you find yourself short on them when you need them, you'll have to go hunt some down and collect them, then return and power the device before you can advance.

Game Mechanics:

The gimmick of shifting into shadows is a novel one and, together with the fact that you actually can manipulate the light sources first, in some puzzles, to line shadows up where you want them, makes for a unique and entertaining challenge.

There were a few occasional glitches in the game, as well as some things that were a bit annoying, if not necessarily "glitches." On a couple of occasions, the shadows of characters in the game would have a misplaced vertex, causing a long, thin, sharp plane or spike that looked strange. This only happened a couple of times and might not have been easily recognized if you're not familiar with that type of bug. The fact that you could only see the cast shadows probably helped to minimize the effect a great deal.

Another glitch I read about, but that didn't happen to me, personally, because I didn't have the Kinect hooked up: someone walking through the room and being recognized by the system can cause the game to take you back to the Menu screen when it logs in that player. I didn't personally see that one occur, so it's not affecting my score, but you may want to disable the Kinect or point it where no one can walk past it before playing Contrast.

The only drawback of the game is that it's so short. I played through in three hours, at a pace being driven mainly by Didi's apparent urgency (although I might have been able to spend more time looking for collectibles without penalty), but the developers estimate that the average person will complete the game in about 4 to 5 hours of gameplay, some more, some less. Completists can get some additional gameplay time by taking more time to find the collectibles, and you can read the text on the collectibles to gain more insight into the story. The gameplay is great, but at $14.99 USD, I would suggest that it's worth it if there is more one player to enjoy the game; it's definitely a game you'll want to share with someone, anyway, just to argue the finer points of exactly what is going on in the game.

Then again, Contrast absolutely has novelty going for it. It's worth picking up for its artistic value, alone, if you're the type who likes to collect and showcase games that truly stand out from the crowd.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

Related Links:

Microsoft Xbox 360 Blood of the Werewolf Nintendo 3DS One Piece Unlimited World Red

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