Capsule Review: Contrast

A noir-styled puzzle platformer in which you play as a mysterious woman with the ability to interact with shadows. By approaching well-lit surfaces, you can merge with your shadow and use other shadows as platforms to reach otherwise unreachable areas. This central gimmick combines with a few other mechanics (such as the ability to carry objects into the shadows and resposition light sources to move and resize shadows) to enable a series of platforming challenges and puzzles that you solve in order to help a little girl save her family.

The early-twentieth-century noir setting is layered with a surreal atmosphere. Player character Dawn is apparently only visible to the little girl, Didi, and in turn Didi seems to be the only person Dawn can see - other characters are not visible; only their shadows. Time flows in inconsistent ways, with events occurring when they make thematic and dramatic sense rather than logical sense. Flashbacks are sometimes projected onto walls as climbable shadow plays for no clear reason. The landscape on the edges of the playable area crumbles into an empty void which is neither acknowledged nor explained in-game. The ending hints at answers for some of these mysteries but not all of them and it might have been less distracting to leave this out and keep those elements ambiguous.

This atmosphere and the story of Didi’s troubled family provide the bulk of the game’s draw. The shadow gimmick is interesting but rather undeveloped. You might expect it to provide a lot of freedom of exploration, but it’s actually very constrained and linear, and only a few objects can be brought into the shadows and only a few light sources can be moved. It’s probably for the best that the puzzles tend to be simple and easy, though, because the physics aren’t very well-tuned and I frequently found myself sliding off of surfaces when trying to make difficult jumps. Thankfully, punishment tends to be low and falling is generally a very brief setback (though there’s one sequence involving shadow puppets that became quite frustrating).

If you’re looking to spend a few hours in a gently surreal noir atmosphere and don’t need a lot of mechanical depth or challenge, Contrast serves well.

I Stopped Playing When: I finished the game. I enjoyed my time with it and found that it reminded me of rain but was much more successful in what it set out to do.

Docprof's Rating:

Three Stars: Good. I liked the game enough to finish it (or just play it a bunch, for games that don't end). I recommend it to most genre fans.

You can get it or learn more here.