A noire and vaudeville inspired world provides a stark background to the hauntingly mature story of a broken family, as a little girl with a friend that nobody can see tries to fix a series of wrongs. While Contrast is a noble effort, perhaps Didi and her invisible friend should have spent their energy on fixing the few wrongs that ultimately hampered this game.
Starting off with a pretty unique concept, Contrast is a platforming puzzle game navigated with the use of shadows. You can phase into areas that are lit up to become a shadow and traverse up walls, over gaps, as well as solve a variety of other puzzles. A couple of the puzzles are actually a little bit tough to figure out, with a “duh” moment as soon as you realize what the secret is. Just when the games seems to be hitting its stride and you are really itching for more puzzles of increasing difficulty, it’s over. Just like that. It couldn’t have taken me much more than three hours total, and I was wasting time, scouring the game for side areas, collectibles, and anything else to do. I even nabbed a 100% on my trophy list for this game.
This extremely short length is also disappointing when you realize that there is no real replay value to the game. The not-so-secret side areas that hold collectibles are easily encountered on your first playthrough, and beginning the game again makes the puzzles feel dull and extremely easy as you now know the solutions to pass every one. Even the more complicated areas aren’t so complicated that another run through is any kind of enjoyable. A good evening or two with this game will ultimately give you everything that it has to offer.
That being said, what is offered during Contrast’s extremely short duration is a great experience. The story of Didi and her dysfunctional family is told through the shadows of all of the characters without being able to actually see any other humans besides Dawn (the player character) and Didi, and is backed by a wonderful 1920’s inspired jazz soundtrack. The gameplay is fun and intriguing as you must shift the way that you are thinking when you approach each situation. Often times the game makes the solution more obvious than I would have liked, with no puzzle really requiring an inordinate amount of thought to complete, but the intrigue of the story and the setting didn’t have me thinking about how easy most things were until the credits started running.
What was distracting from the story and setting were some of the glitches that occurred with the shadows, which take center stage in this game. It was brutally obvious during the story scenes that the shadows of people on the walls and other surfaces did not accurately line up with where they were supposed to actually be. Some of the animations in these scenes looked extremely silly too, taking away from the tale that was being woven. One character seemed to have a detached arm as light leaked through where his shoulder should have connected and that was just one of a few issues that I noticed. Considering that the way light and shadows played a part in the puzzles was done fairlywell, with accurate stretching and contortion based on light position and object position, it was sad to see that this rarely applied to the character scenes.
There were also a few minor gameplay glitches in which I would get kicked out of shadow mode for what appeared to be no reason or stuck to objects in the world. I would find myself setting down boxes and then unable to move afterwards or stuck on invisible objects in the environment. This didn’t happen throughout the whole game, but it occurred enough that it warranted mention. For the most part the shadow mode works pretty well. It is a fun and unique twist to your standard fare puzzle-platformer, but really only adds underutilized potential when the curtains prematurely fall.
When all is said and done, the idea that is Contrast finds itself in a better place than the final product. A description of the gameplay, the setting, and the story all seem great in theory, but my short time with Contrast left me with more disappointment than satisfaction, particularly on the gameplay side of things. A little more attention and polish, along with more difficult puzzles and a longer run time would have done this game a lot of good, but perhaps the concept can come to better fruition in a future title. For now, as a free game on the PS4’s PlayStation Plus lineup, the setting, score, story and ideas in Contrast are highly worth the three hours of your time that it will take to complete, but as simple puzzles, glitches, and a very short length don’t do anything to add long term value to the game, we’re sadly left with shadows of what could have been.