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Review: You Should play this - Contrast (2013)

Review: You Should play this - Contrast (2013)

Developer: Compulsion Games - reviewed on Windows PC - other formats available.

In a world that presents itself as partly an exaggerated version of a 1920’s Paris and partly someplace like New York, Didi’s mother is about to set off for work.  It's late and Didi’s mother is a lounge singer at a nearby club.  She'll be leaving Didi alone; having recently split from the girl's father.  She tells her daughter to go bed and not sneak out into the city - something she apparently has a habit of doing. Then she leaves for work.

Didi is not alone though; she has had her imaginary friend Dawn (nice joke) to talk to. Very tall with rouged cheeks, red basque and black and white leggings Dawn looks like a child's version of the dancing girls who work at her mother's club. While she is an imaginary extension of Didi herself, in many ways she is capable of getting places and performing actions the child could not achieve on her own.

Didi and Dawn getting ready for their night on the town.

The absence of the father and the nature of the mother's job has attracted the attentions of the authorities who have warned that if more stability is not introduced into Didi’s life soon she'll be taken away. 
Still Didi’s desire to watch her mother perform is too great to keep her indoors and she and Dawn venture out into the night. 

Contrast is a puzzle platformer with a unique spin on a game mechanic we've seen before - namely a game character having the ability to suddenly change a 3D world into a 2D one in order to navigate obstacles or, as we have here, the character being able to turn two-dimensional themselves when the situation is needed.  Using this ability Dawn is able to get places not accessible to Didi but it requires the two of them to operate in harmony.  Say the two of them come across a locked door - they can't get through, but they can see a balcony one floor up.  Looking around will often lead Didi to find a nearby lamp or other light-source which she then can use to cast shadows. Holding a lamp at the right angle behind an object like a flower-pot or table will cast a shadow on a nearby wall that runs from the floor they're on up to the balcony above.  Once Didi has found the right angle and suitable shadow the player then switches to Dawn.  Standing by the wall she has, at the touch of a button, the ability to become a 2D shadow herself, whereupon she is able to jump and climb the larger shadow being cast by Didi. Once at the top she can switch back to being three-dimensional again, run down the stairs on the other side of the door and unlock it - giving the girl access to the next room.  It's a clever mechanic used well. 

It's a seriously beautiful game.

Didi manages to get to the club and catch part of her mother's act. To her surprise her father appears wanting to talk with her mother. He's something of a loser and minor criminal; he's just got out of jail for fraud.  He insists he has a plan to earn money and provide for his family. His wife has heard all this before - but it's clear that he has one last chance to make things work.  
Her father's plan - we won't go into details here - involves obtaining items and striking deals with criminals. On his own he is sure to fail, but he is unknowingly helped by Didi and Dawn who constantly get him out of difficult situations. 

It's an incredibly handsome world. The character designs are charming and expressive and you really find yourself rooting for this little girl and her imaginary friend.  Some of the puzzles are a little on the easy side, others real head-scratchers - until the answer presents itself and you want to slap your forehead.  The combination of this alluring, fantastically rendered, place and Didi’s predicament (and you really do end up caring about her) makes it a very easy game to recommend. 

It's one of those titles that regularly bounces up and down in price. The next time you see it cheap I suggest you get a copy.  For fans of puzzlers and platformers I suggest that you don't wait until then.

Michael Coates

All rights to promotional material - Compulsion Games
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