There has been a revival of puzzle-platforming games in recent years. The immense popularity of games like Braid and Portal prove a continuing viability for a genre that doesn’t get much mainstream attention. Aside from Valve, major developers have largely ignored the category, leaving indie developers to take the reins and move the genre forward. Enter Compulsion Games, an independent Montreal-based studio comprised of a small group of industry veterans. Contrast, Compulsions’ debut effort, is an adventure through light and shadow that offers a unique platforming experience.
In Contrast, players take control of Dawn, the imaginary friend of a young girl named Didi. Dawn is only visible to Didi and Dawn cannot see anyone but Didi. However, Dawn can see and interact with the shadows cast by the other inhabitants of the game world. She has the ability to circumnavigate both 3D space and a 2D world of shadows.
One of the more unique features of Contrast is the ability to switch seamlessly between 2D and 3D platforming. The need to adjust lighting sources to manipulate shadows adds an interesting challenge to many of the obstacles. The player is also tasked with collecting luminaries – little balls of light – to power some of the contraptions found throughout the game. The controls are fairly straightforward and don’t take much time getting used to. Contrast offers a fair amount of difficulty and a variety of puzzles that should please most fans of the genre. There were a few noticeable minor glitches here and there, but a patch was recently released that should take care of them.
Set in a fictional art deco-inspired world, the game revolves around Didi and her quest to reunite her family. The player controls her imaginary friend Dawn, a silent acrobat who moves through light and shadow in order to assist Didi throughout her adventure. An assortment of classic film noir types round out the cast, including a cabaret singing mother, a sheisty double-dealing father, the mob and an obsessive magician who is a cross between Houdini and Tesla. At its heart, Contrast is the tale of a girl putting the pieces of her broken family back together while discovering much about both her family and herself along the way. The game has all of the foundations of a great story. However, the pacing feels a bit rushed, leaving the characters little room to fully develop.
Designed for PC, current and next-gen consoles, Contrast’s visuals are striking and of triole-A quality. The artists did an exemplary job of creating a dark, vintage world with a touch of fantasy and whimsy. Backgrounds are finely detailed and the lighting engine is top-notch. Aside from a variety of shadows, character design is limited to Dawn and Didi and is just as impressive as the rest of the artwork.
The game’s music faithfully embodies the era to which it belongs. It enhances the atmosphere created by the visuals and helps bring the dreary, circa-1940s noir world to life. While the music is fitting and well executed, it tends to be a bit sparse. There are some extended moments of silence that could benefit from more aural embellishments. Nevertheless, it is a minor issue made less noticeable by the game’s first class sound design. The voice cast also does an excellent job of nailing the noir tenor, as if they were plucked straight from an old Humphrey Bogart film.
Contrast is a highly entertaining puzzle-platformer that offers a new twist on an otherwise familiar gameplay experience. It clocks in at around four hours and can be slightly expanded by finding all of the extra luminaries and collectibles hidden within the game. Gathering collectibles also adds more insight into the characters and the game’s world. While the story isn’t as engaging as it could have been, the game’s settings and high production values more than make up for it. It’s a solid debut from Compulsion Games that should arouse the interest of any enthusiast of the genre.