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Finding Beauty In The World Of Contrast

by Jeff Marchiafava on Jun 14, 2013 at 01:25 PM

Compulsion Games' striking indie platformer/puzzler presents players with an irresistible mix of themes and aesthetics. The setting blends 1920s vaudeville with the film noire of the 1940s. The player travels seamlessly between the colorful 3D world and the moving shadows that paint its surfaces. The story follows a precocious little girl named Didi, but contains some surprisingly adult twists. Contrast doesn't have the biggest budget – nor did it receive the most attention at E3 – but it's the title that stuck with me the most.

Players take on the role of Didi's imaginary friend, Dawn, who the little girl invented to help cope with a traumatic event in her past. These events play out as shadows on the environments around Dawn, as she follows Didi around the world and solves puzzles. Being imaginary, Dawn can also transform into a shadow herself, allowing her to traverse the silhouettes cast by other objects. For example, one area requires Dawn to climb up to the rooftop of a building overlooking a courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard, a spinning carousel casts shadows of the horses onto the surrounding buildings, which provide moving platforms for me to jump across. When I get to a gap that's too large to cross, Didi holds a stick above her head, which provides a temporary bridge to my objective.

Compulsion Games studio head Guillaume Provost says that the game is broken up into three acts, each of which of which features new locations, puzzle mechanics, and story twists. Provost says Contrast will provide players with a stream of new puzzles and experiences, and that he'd rather keep the game short than repeat the same tricks.

Contrast was one of the first games approved on Steam Greenlight, and Provost says that fans responded positively to the jazz song used in one of the trailers, performed by singer Laura Ellis. Because of the fan feedback, the developer has composed an all-original soundtrack that Ellis will be performing. We get a chance to hear one of these songs in a cabaret bar in an early level of the game. After finding and shining a series of spotlights at the empty stage to reveal the ghostly shadows of a band, the silhouettes launch into a full song, complete with a seductive dance number from the sultry, Jessica Rabbit-esque singer.

I don't want to give away too much of the story, but the sequences I saw revealed some of the struggles facing Didi's parents, who despite their flaws, love their daughter. Like Papo & Yo, Contrast is another indie game that shows mature topics can be explored in games in a meaningful way, and I'm eager to see where the story leads.

Contrast's unique visual style, original music, and innovative gameplay make a compelling package for players, and the enthusiasm of Provost while sharing his demo reminded me why I love indie games so much. Contrast will be available on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 later this year, and will be a launch game for the PS4. If you're a fan of unique indie games, Contrast should definitely be on your radar.

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