Emotion is a quality that can make a good game, a great game. This quality is abundant in the Xbox Live Arcade game, Contrast. Developed by Compulsion Games and priced at $14.99, Contrast puts you in the role of a character named Dawn who can manipulate between light and shadow and who is the apparent imaginary friend of a little girl named Didi. It's been said that children sometimes generate imaginary friends due to struggles within their own lives, and most of the time the focus is on the parents and the living environment they provide. This is the foundation of Contrast and really sets the stage for a dynamic performance. Does Contrast bask in the light of amazing glory, or does it seemingly vanish into nothing while deep in the shadows? Let's see what Compulsion Games put together.
As we begin our journey, you'll notice that Didi is a small girl caught in a troubled family life. Her father is not in the picture, and the mother, Kat, is trying to make the best life she can for her and her daughter by being a lounge singer. This leads Didi to a life of loneliness and so, out of this situation Dawn is made to be. Set in a sort of fantasy, noir art deco environment, the plot consistently keeps you going like Alice and the rabbit hole. Throughout the game the plot takes several twists and turns, but plays heavily on the feelings of a little girl wanting her parents to reunite and become a family once again. The story is a bit short and can be gone through from start to finish in a few hours, but it's one that shouldn't be spoiled as the adventure of Contrast is very well done and even the ending will leave you with a smile ear to ear.
You will control Dawn throughout the entire game and will use her abilities of both light and shadow to complete the puzzles that lay ahead. A major cornerstone of a puzzle solving platformer is to have puzzles that boggle the mind, yet give you satisfaction when you finally figure out how to solve them. Sure there are more complex puzzle games out there, but Contrast holds its own by mixing up both 3D and 2D puzzles with a crafty solution if you take the time to figure it out. If you're into very complex and challenging puzzles then Contrast may not be for you, but if you like innovative twists involving solving puzzles with light and shadow, then this game will keep you entertained for hours upon hours.
The whole fantasy world you venture through is done brilliantly and almost every interaction involves shadowy figures that play out the drama of Contrast. This innovative twist goes a long way because it creates so much with only a little material. Each environment has its own twists, turns, and back areas to explore for collectibles and help add a sense of depth to this almost noir dream world. You will eventually go from point A to B as you progress through the game but there is a small room of exploration, but only if you're crafty enough to figure out just how to navigate it.
Another big plus that Contrast has going for it is the soundtrack. The voice acting alone will take you back to the early decades of the 1900's but the true audio gem is the music. A very minimalistic jazz style is heard right from the beginning and even though it's a looped verse, I couldn't help but listen to it over and over again as it's an emotionally calming, little piece of music. This whole musical mood is felt in every moment of Contrast and permeates every part of its atmosphere, in fact as I'm writing this I have the soothing main menu music going in the background. Take a bow Compulsion Games; you've more than earned it.
It actually is a relief that this tone was established for Contrast because there are two faults with Contrast and they are the control sensitivity and the camera itself. Dawn's movements are so incredibly touchy that when trying to make very minute changes in direction can leave you falling off ledges and plummeting to your death. This is a big negative when you're trying to figure out and complete certain puzzles that require you to switch in between both light and shadow. There were times when my character was on a ledge and I tried to just drop off the side to pick up a collectible and ended up launching Dawn way out into the abyss.
Then the other problem area, the camera, seems to suffer from the same schizophrenic movement issue as the controls. When you're trying to get your bearings in solving puzzles, it helps to have a stable camera system and that isn't found here in Contrast. At times our character involuntary switched from shadow to light due to a glitch in the shadows and environment and this caused us to become trapped, half in and half out of a wall which required us to restart from the last save point. If you're going to create a puzzle platforming game, you absolutely have to have a responsive, yet solid control feel and a good camera to help give you a perspective of your surrounding environment and possible solutions to the upcoming puzzles. Sadly the quality of the plot, graphics, music isn't found here.
While $14.99 is on the high end of Xbox Live Arcade games, Contrast brings a lot of content in a minimal way. The story may be short but is done very well, and even though there are some issues with the controls and camera, the simplistic beauty of every other aspect of Contrast will make every moment very enjoyable. $14.99 may be a bit steep for an arcade game like this, however, at $9.99 it's a must have for anyone who enjoys puzzle platforming games that bring a fantastic story that’s blended with wonderful art and music. Thank you Compulsion Games for releasing Contrast on the Xbox Live Arcade.