The repetitive mechanics make the experience a bit tedious, but the heartfelt story makes up for most of Contrast’s problems.
What are shadows? Are they just the shade produced by a physical object coming between light and a surface or is there something more hiding in them? Could it be possible that inside the shadows hides a parallel two-dimensional universe? That’s the inviting promise behind Contrast, a unique puzzle/platformer that constantly encourages you to alternate between the three-dimensional real world and the two-dimensional world of shadows. The repetitive mechanics make the experience a bit tedious, but the heartfelt story makes up for most of Contrast’s problems.
In Contrast, you assume the role of Dawn, an exuberant acrobat who befriends a little girl called Didi. Didi comes from a broken home, since her father has recently left her mother. But Didi’s no ordinary girl, since she has the ability to see what other people can’t, such as Dawn. Dawn also has a unique skill of her own: she can alternate between the real world and the world of shadows. Interestingly, a significant part of the story is explained via the collectible items that are scattered around the environments, so if you don’t want to miss any important details, you need to make sure you find these hidden items.
But while the core mechanic sounds quite unique, Contrast has a tendency to overuse it. In a sense, the game feels overly simple: you go into the shadow world, make some progress and when you get stuck, you go to the real world, move a light or object to clear a path in the 2D world and that’s it. It’s worth pointing out that as you make progress, you unlock new abilities, including the possibility of fixing lights, breaking wooden doors, dashing through shadows and more, but you don’t use these abilities as often as you could.
To a certain extent, Contrast’s puzzles are quite simplistic, but what the game lacks in the complexity of its brainteasers or variety of mechanics, it more that makes up for in visual pizzazz. Contrast looks absolutely stunning and more importantly, the game exudes a unique noir and cabaret style. The atmosphere is contagious and soon after playing the game, you’ll feel immersed in this peculiar world. Additionally, the jazzy soundtrack really sets the tone for both the story and style of the game.
Sadly, Contrast isn’t without some issues, The game’s painfully short and finishing it could take you as little as four hours of playtime. On top of that, exploring some of the more claustrophobic environments can be a problem, since the camera behaves erratically most of the times. Finally, while most mechanics are compelling, the developer struggles when it comes to using them in a refreshing manner.
Nevertheless, Contrast manages to have some truly brilliant and heartfelt moments. For instance, the part where you assume the role of a princess and you need to rescue a prince from various hazards is remarkably creative and clever and in a way, this scene is very reminiscent of Limbo. It’s unfortunate that to experience such moments you have to make use of an gripping, yet repetitive mechanic.
Despite having some simplistic mechanics, Contrast’s story is the star of the show, so in a sense, the gameplay is just a mean to an end. The tools are flawed, that’s right, but thankfully, they don’t make the story less touching. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy every minute of Contrast’s emotionally affecting tale.