Contrast Review for PlayStation 4 (PS4)

Contrast Review for PlayStation 4 (PS4)

A Contrast Between Story and Gameplay

Contrast is a game that begins with a lot of promise. This puzzle-platformer stars a girl named Didi and her imaginary friend Dawn. The two of them embark on a journey to solve the very adult problems facing Didi’s troubled family, in a way that could only be dreamed up by the mind of a child.

Didi and Dawn’s story takes place in a world drenched with the themes of 1920’s cinema–full of cabarets, carnivals, gangsters, vaudeville acts, etc. The graphic design is quite attractive, playing with art deco and noir styles and featuring the theme of light and shadow. The player controls Dawn, who only sees Didi as a fully realized person (all other characters are seen as shadows). Dawn is able to enter this world by flattening herself against lighted surfaces, becoming a shadow person.

Contrast’s concept is unique, and its story is quite touching. The trouble begins with the actual gameplay. Dawn will be tasked with solving puzzles that generally involve manipulating light to create shadows, then switching into shadow mode to use those shadows as platforms. It’s a great concept, but the execution is horribly flawed in both its platforming and puzzle elements.

When out in the 3D world, the player will frequently struggle with the camera and Dawn’s tendency to become stuck on, in, and around the scenery. In both the 3D and 2D world, the platforming controls are incredibly loose, and jumps are difficult to perform with precision. The light and shadow theme can get in the way of the platforming, as well. There are numerous moments in which Dawn must quickly un-merge from the walls onto a 3D platform, but those platforms are usually in shadow. They’re difficult to see and easy to overshoot. Actually, just about all the game’s jumps are far too easy to overshoot.

Contrast Screenshot

As for the puzzles, there’s only a single solution to any of them. This is a perfectly valid game-design choice, but only when the puzzles are clever and the design consistent. While the game has its clever moments, most of the puzzles aren’t very difficult. The solutions are generally easy to see, leaving only a fight with the game’s controls and design in order to achieve said solutions.

Contrast Screenshot

Along with the fidgety controls, inconsistent design makes puzzle-solving more of a chore than a delight. For instance, sometimes objects (like beams or columns) knock Dawn out of shadow form, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes she’ll be able to grab and climb onto platforms in the 3D world, but only when the designers intended this to be done, so sometimes the player will find themselves stymied by a waist-high wall. When a particular jump is difficult to make, it’s often hard to tell if it’s a player skill issue, a control issue, or if the designers simply never intended the jump to be possible. There’s a slight shimmer to some grab-able ledges and platforms, but that’s also inconsistently applied.

The later portions of the game redeem themselves a bit, as the gameplay starts to better match up with the game’s themes, and the player starts to discover the story’s mysteries. Just as this interest ramps up, though, the game ends. It’s a satisfying completion to the story, but it’s not hard to feel a bit cheated from a gamer’s perspective.

Contrast Screenshot

A talented cast of voice actors support the story well, but the promise of a jazz-infused soundtrack is a bit of a tease. There are a few nice pieces at the beginning and end of the game, performed by Didi’s mother Kat. Otherwise, there is little to no background music to be had. The lion’s share of gameplay time is spent in silence or with nothing but ambient sound. That could be excused if the game’s sound effects were necessary for puzzle-solving, but they’re not.

I dearly wanted to enjoy Contrast . It’s the kind of game that is normally right up my alley, featuring puzzles, platforming, a stylish, historically inspired world, and an intelligent young female protagonist. It simply wasn’t fun to actually play . Contrast would have made a delightful short film, but I’m afraid that it isn’t a particularly good game.

Beautiful and stylish, but needing better visual cues and consistency for puzzle-solving. 2.4 Control
Jumps are frustratingly imprecise, the camera is uncooperative, and most puzzles aren’t that interesting to solve. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great voice acting and some lovely jazz pieces, but it feels like they forgot to score most of the game. 2.0 Play Value
Puzzle-platforming magic rarely happens in this brief game that would have been better served as a short film. 2.5 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Contrast is a 2D/3D puzzle/platformer, set in a 1920’s vaudevillian, film noir dreamscape, full of cabaret, illusion and performance.
  • You play as Dawn, the imaginary friend of a little girl, Didi, and you have the power to shift from the 3D world into a 2D shadowscape, by becoming your shadow.
  • Didi’s family isn’t perfect–her mother is a cabaret singer focused on her career, and her father isn’t around any more. As her imaginary best friend, you must use your shadow shifting abilities to solve complex puzzles in order to help Didi investigate the secrets that lie behind her troubled family.

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