Contrast Game Review: Don't Fear the Dark Side

Contrast is an intriguing 2D/3D puzzle platformer from Canadian newcomer Compulsion Games that plays with the concept of shadows. In it, you play the role of a mysterious (perhaps imaginary?) friend to a little girl in a 1920s setting, and help her accomplish a variety of goals using your unique "shadow" powers.

Shadow platforming is like regular platform, but more shadowy.

Brilliant idea with forgivable execution

If you watched the trailer, you'll start the game hungry for some shadow walking - and you won't have to wait long. It is an amazingly innovative mechanic, and before long you'll be bamfing in and out of shadows as if that were a perfectly normal means of locomotion. Shadow walking is quite fun, but you soon find that it can present it's own challenges based on the shadows of other objects, and the direction of light sources. All these things make for the elements of some amazing mind bending puzzles that will have you smiling with delight when you finally devise the right shadow skill recipe.

The music, the art, the 1920s setting, and even the silhouette-puppet-show-plot (which some have been overly critical of) all had me perfectly immersed, but unfortunately I was plagued in the harder puzzles by various scenarios that would cause me to "pop out" of the shadow world back into the real world, and usually to my death. It seems a reasonable design decision that if something crushes you in the shadow world you should fall back into the real world, but more often than not this phenomenon seemed to happen when I was walking on perfectly solid shadows (a little hard to say that without smirking). It's a pity these little blips couldn't be slightly more ironed out - because they are a small blemish on an otherwise outstanding game. I played past them and finished the game, but I can imagine some will get frustrated and give up.

One particularly fun scene in the game is a puppet show love letter to Limbo

Duration and the Future

I've read several criticisms of Contrast that cite the short duration of the game as an indication that the game was rushed. While the bugs are certainly unfortunate, I'd say it's perfectly reasonable to assume that Contrast was imagined as a short, self contained introduction to world where people can walk in shadows. I'm not offended at all by the brevity (although admittedly I got the game on sale), but I'm actually at a point in my game playing career that I somewhat prefer short games that are creative and interesting, over long games that are grindy and monotonous. Time is a thing I've got a lot less of these days, so a short well executed game is fine by me. I wish I could say Contrast was exactly that, but despite it's few flaws I found a lot to love about it and I'd love to see more. According to an interview with Autodesk Compulsion is sticking together, and I am really excited to see what them come up with next.