I’ll try to persuade Paul and Peter to introduce a new rule. I call it the giant spider rule. If your game contains a giant spider for no good reason, the game’s score will go down (because everyone knows the score is the most important thing in any review).
Lord of the rings Game? It’s good. giant spiders allowed; They are canonically acceptable. Game in which you play a small insect? Okay good; Spiders are thematically appropriate, and they would certainly appear large if you were a fly or something. Stereotypical fantasy RPG? Eh You might lose a point for being unimaginative and hackneyed. Stylish puzzle platformer in a variety show version of 1920s Paris? Fuck off.
And that, dear readers, is something contrast is. Uh, I don’t mean fuck it; I mean, it’s a stylish puzzle platformer set in a vaudevillian take on 1920s Paris. You play as Dawn, the possibly imaginary (and silent and utterly characterless) friend of a troubled little girl named Didi. Didi’s mother is a lounge singer, while her absent father is a cheap criminal with a heart of gold and a streak of bad luck who was thrown out of the house after another of his get-rich-quick schemes was blown up. Didi wants to reunite her parents, but her father’s latest plan promises more trouble than usual, so it’s up to you to help them.
There are many things I really love contrast. It’s well written and well voiced, and there is bags style throughout. The heavy focus on bright lights and inky shadows evokes the tone of film noir, and the slightly over-the-top character models blend into the dialogue to give everything the feel of a slightly dark animated film.
Not that there are too many character models. Didi is the only person who can physically see Dawn; all others are completely invisible, perceptible only through the shadows they cast on the walls. Since you don’t interact with anyone other than Didi directly, this never causes a problem. Again, it only adds to the sheer style of things, especially when you get caught up in a conversation between two mafia lieutenants and it’s played out by six-foot shadows cast on a spot-lit brick facade.
This interplay between light and dark is also essential for the game mechanics. Dawn is an acrobat, but she doesn’t just jump through the 3D world – she can step into the shadow, walk past all the other shadows (in 2D, of course) and then jump back out into the “real” world. This is where both the “puzzle” and “platformer” bits come into play.
Most of it boils down to figuring out how to get from A to B, which usually means jumping in and out of shadows and the 3D world. Cleverly, however, you can change most of the existing shadows. They’re almost always thrown by something tangible, and often you can Movement that something tangible is adjusting the shadows. There might be three cardboard cutouts with a bright light shining on them… So by moving these cutouts, you can turn their gigantic shadows into platforms that you can use to get to an otherwise inaccessible area.
This is honestly something I find a bit overwhelming. I’ll grant you that it’s not TOTAL ENVIRONMENTAL DESTRUCTION or whatever is being championed in the Triple-A title of the day, but rather a visual effect (which correctly calculates based on the shape of the object and the direction and distance from will). the light) and turns it into a physical gameplay mechanic.
Unfortunately, it never really gets more complex than that. You get a sprint move that lets you tear down thin walls or move through thin shadows, and you can pull the odd environmental object – boxes or balls – into the shadows with you, though that’s it already. Not too many of the puzzles are that mind-blowing; Most of the game is really just figuring out how to get from one place to another and in general if you can find some objects that you can move to change the shadows cast on the walls then you are you halfway.
On the plus side, there are a few wonderful set pieces. The second of the game’s three acts revolves around the design of a cobbled together carnival that offers ample opportunity for some large buildings and different environments. For example: the shadow play is missing its princess, so obviously Dawn has to put on a hat, switch to the shadow and play the part of the princess in a side platforming section narrated by Didi’s father. By the way, this is where the giant spider appears. I suspect it could be one limbo Reference but I don’t care. Huge eight-legged nightmare machines have no place in this game.
On the other hand, there aren’t really many options for these wonderful set pieces. According to Steam, I finished the game in just over three hours, and that includes the times I got stuck on puzzles and the occasions I restarted stages. This is a remarkably light game, and while it tells a personal story that feels complete and self-contained, it could possibly stopped being a little longer. Due to the puzzles, it may well take longer (or even shorter) depending on how you deal with them, but it’s still not a lengthy game; I suspect I can probably get 100% completion if I put in another hour.
Which leads me to the other issue, and this is what I’ve complained about in almost every review I’ve made over the past few months. Of course I’m talking about mistakes. And no, I’m not talking about the spider again.
Some of these are understandable, others are not too problematic. I can tolerate the moments when the shadowshift doesn’t Right work correctly and you have to repeat a jump. Less tolerable are the spots where you get stuck in walls or a needed item gets stuck somewhere inaccessible and you have to start the section from scratch. But the worst? The worst problem is the animation errors.
Complaining about animation might seem like a side issue in a game that occasionally tends to leave you stuck in walls and only features two character models, but it really is here is important – at least for me. As I said in one of the first paragraphs, this is a game with a lot of style. It’s a game with a lot of personality and a very unique identity. So it’s…bad when characters suddenly switch into the default model pose—arms out, legs straight, T-position—for no apparent reason—and maybe slide across the floor in that pose for a moment. It breaks the immersion and kills the otherwise delicious tone.
Which makes me ponder a bit. I really like contrast; it does something unique and clever, and it does it pretty well. While the gameplay never feels like it’s going to take off, I like the story it tells, I like the way it’s told, and I like the overall aesthetic. That extends to the spirited, jazzy blues soundtrack, which is probably among the best I’ve heard in a game this year, and yes, that’s why I embedded the music trailer a little higher up. It is so good.
On the downside, it’s overall too light, buggy, and regularly destroys its own wonderful atmosphere with bugs and glitches. There’s a lot to love here, but – as with the adult cast – it’s damaged merchandise.