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Contrast Review: A Unique, Yet Short Platformer
I seldom play platform games on the PC. Having grown up playing games like Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo, I much prefer the platform genre when it is on the console. From time to time, I will check out a platform game on the PC if it looks particularly interesting. When I saw Contrast advertised on Steam, I instantly knew it was a game I wanted to check out. I went into Contrast not knowing what to expect, and I found myself pleasantly surprised. For $14.99, I got a memorable platforming experience, albeit an unusual one.
Contrast takes place in the 1920’s in what I can only guess is some alternate surreal parallel version of Earth. The main characters are Didi and the mysterious player character known as Dawn. Dawn possesses the unique ability that is being able to walk along shadows casted by light. No seriously, she can walk along the shadow of any surface. This is where the unique gameplay mechanic comes in, but more on that soon. Dawn follows Didi as she sneaks around the city, eavesdropping on her parents and their strained relationship.
Contrast is both a 3D and 2D platformer. One might expect these two types of platformers to not blend well at all, but as it turns out it works really well in Contrast. You switch between the two modes seamlessly for the most part, and all puzzles require you to make frequent use of this mechanic. New abilities are introduced to the player as they progress, and it never feels like you need to memorize a text book full of abilities in order to be able to play well. The controls are a little sticky and unresponsive at times, which can cause problems at certain parts of the game. The 2D sections are very similar to Limbo, which is a great game to take notes and draw inspiration from.
Through the entire game you’ll be jumping along platforms and solving puzzles to progress through the story. The puzzles do take some time to figure out and can be initially frustrating. However, some of the more difficult parts of the game are surprisingly forgiving for a platformer and it never feels like you are being punished for making a mistake, as there are frequent checkpoints between jumps and objectives. There are collectibles scattered throughout the game that fill in details into the storyline. Along with collectibles there are small orbs called Luminaries that can be collected that are required to solve some puzzles. However, Luminaries are infrequently used and it feels like they could have been better implemented into the game.
Visually, Contrast is a very appealing game. Most characters are depicted as shadows against light, and the only two full models that you see in game are for Didi and Dawn. The environments are beautiful and well designed and have incredible lighting effects, although there were plenty of areas that could have used more detail to make them feel more alive. More often than not, the city in Contrast feels abandoned and devoid of life. Then there are areas that are very surreal, for lack of a better term. These areas are like a giant elephant in the room that none of the characters seem to make note of or voice any concern about, and that can be a little jarring.
The sound design for Contrast is fantastic. The music adds to the 1920’s vibe that the designers were aiming for, and there is never a moment where a sound feels like it doesn’t belong in the game. Even the character voices are incredible and fitting in most cases. That said, Didi has the most annoying voice I’ve heard in a game for awhile. It doesn’t help matters that Dawn never speaks, so Didi does all the talking for her and I nearly got a headache from it.
As a warning, Contrast is a very short game. At most it will take about three to four hours to beat the game depending on if you get stuck on a puzzle or not. If a $14.99 price tag seems too steep for a short game, then I’d recommend avoiding it. Although, there are worse things to spend $14.99 on. For what it is worth, Contrast is an experience. If I had to describe it, I’d say Contrast is the slushy you’d get if you put an unfinished Tim Burton movie script, a copy of Limbo, and parts of Cabaret into a blender. If you are looking for a platformer that stays unique and interesting from start to finish, then I highly recommend Contrast.