Running in the shadows of 1930's Paris in Contrast

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by TRACY-MARK GORGAS / Special contributor to NWCN.com

NWCN.com

Posted on December 13, 2013 at 9:32 PM

Shadows play, shadows dance, shadows hold the mysteries of the day.  Pretend your world was nothing but light and shadows that you can switch between the two, interacting with in each.  Developer Compulsion Games has created that world in Contrast.  Are you ready to mix with the shadows of the night?

Story

Didi is an adventurous young girl with the goal to bring her parents back together.  Set in 1930’s Paris, her mother, Kat, is a jazz singer at a cabaret and her father, Johnny, is a charming dreamer whose big plans always seem to fail.  Despite the fact that her mother has thrown Johnny out, Didi is determined to bring them back together so they can be a family.  To help her with her quest, Didi has Dawn, her imaginary friend.  Dawn has the power to switch between being a person or a "living shadow."
 
One night Kat tells Didi that she needs to go to work and that Didi needs to stay in bed and not sneak out (which before had almost resulted in Didi being taken away from Kat).  Despite telling her mother that she would stay put Didi does indeed sneak out to see her mother perform.  She arrives just in time to see Kat take the stage.  During her performance Johnny shows up.  Sneaking backstage Didi eavesdrops on the conversation between Kat and Johnny.  True to form, Johnny has yet another plan to be successful; he asks that Kat meet him at the Excelsior so he can show her his plans.  Though Kat turns Johnny down Didi follows him when he leaves to find out what he is up to.  She finds out that he is going to open a circus.  Not just any circus though, a circus that features the Great Vincenzo, a master illusionist, as its star performer.
 
There are a few hitches in Johnny's plan though.  Vincenzo knows full well of Johnny’s past business mishaps and wants to be paid up front before he will agree.  The people that are financially backing Johnny will not give him anymore money unless he can prove that Vincenzo is on board.  His financial backers also happen to be the local mafia who threaten Johnny if he can't payback what they’ve already have loaned him.  And if that isn't enough, three of the other big circus attractions have major problems that need to be fixed.  Johnny’s circus looks to be doomed before it can even start.

Determined to make everything work so they can be a family again Didi and Dawn set forth to fix it all.

While Contrast's story sounds like it would be perfect for kids, it does run in some adult themes, especially where Johnny's backers are involved.  Johnny is never hurt, but the mobsters don't skirt around the issue of what they will do to Johnny if he can't pay up.

Controls and Gameplay

Contrast presents a puzzle and platformer game with a unique twist, the ability to switch between the 3D real world and the 2D shadow world.  Initially this results in Dawn being able to use shadows to reach places unobtainable by normal means.  Later in the game you find that Dawn can also take objects into the shadows with her, like a box to help with switches.

The puzzles start out simple with the game sort of handholding you through them by giving you subtle clues.  As the game progresses the clues become fewer and the puzzle become more complex, a couple of them were real brain scratchers too.  Eventually I did get through them all.

Graphics and Audio

The world of Contrast is a wonderful mix that is part 1930s French art deco meets Aeon Flux.  An interesting aspect of the world is that Didi and Dawn are the only characters in the world that are seen whole; all of the rest of the characters, bit players to main cast, are only seen as shadows.  Adding to strangeness is that fact that it appears Didi’s Paris is a series of islands floating in a perpetually night sky.

The voice cast was well put together and their performances were good, but the highlight was Laura Ellis.  Laura is the singing voice for Kat and she really brings the feeling of a French jazz cabaret to the fore.  Easily the major reason I wanted to play this game was hearing Laura in the teaser trailer.

Overall

As I said after hearing the music in the first trailer for Contrast I was intrigued.  Then getting a good look at the game at PAX this year I was hooked.  It was a good game with a sweet story and interesting gameplay, but one not without a few faults.  The first raised its head late in the game and sadly it was a temporary game breaker (for clarity the version I played was on the PlayStation 4).  I'm not sure why but at one point you need to position a spotlight onto a reflector to activate the next spotlight.  No matter what I did I could not get the reflector to activate.  After fifteen minutes of frustration I took a break and shut the game off.  When I came back later I did the same thing I had tried so many times before, aiming the spotlight at the reflector, and suddenly it worked.  That was the only bug I encountered in the game.

The other problem is that the story is short.  Didi’s desire for a family and her fix it attitude makes for a good story, with the unique light and shadow gameplay, it felt like there should have been more.The fun was over just as it was getting good.

A good, but short story, unique gameplay and an outstanding soundtrack I give Contrast a 4 out of 5.

Contrast is rated T for Teen by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board for Fantasy Violence and Suggestive Themes.

For more information check out the official Contrast web site.
 

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