Contrast Review
Contrast Box Art
System: PS4
Dev: Compulsion Games
Pub: Focus Home Interactive
Release: November 15, 2013
Players: 1
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco
A Contrast Between Story and Gameplay
by Becky Cunningham

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.

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