Crossing the shadowy line between reality and fantasy.
To most children, shadows present an endless world of possibilities within the shapes cast on walls. Young Didi understands this intimately: her imaginary friend Dawn has the ability to enter shadows and travel across them freely, exiting back to the “real” world at will. Contrast puts you in the shoes of the shadow-walking Dawn as she uses her power to help Didi confront issues surrounding her family.
Set in the 1920s, Contrast‘s world and characters are gorgeously styled as a mixture of vaudeville, burlesque, and film noir. Didi’s mother—a burlesque singer—and father—a circus organizer—share a complicated history that Didi seeks to understand and resolve through her adventures with Dawn in the city’s streets and clubs. Sometimes this results in shining light on the truth literally, as in a performance that is only visible when Dawn maneuvers stage lights to reveal a set of shadowy performers mid-set.
More often, however, Dawn’s control of shadows is used as a creative platforming and puzzle-solving mechanism. In the 2D shadow world, Dawn is able to avoid dangers and obstacles that exist in the 3D world while simultaneously exploring previously inaccessible areas. A balcony that is too high to reach for real-world Didi and Dawn can be accessed by jumping the shadows of carousel horses up the building; what is only a bike tire in the real world becomes an almost ferris wheel-sized escalator in shadow form.
Generating such a large shadow from a small tire is a result of Contrast‘s other primary puzzle component: Dawn is able to move objects in the 3D world so that they cast differently sized or angled shadows. This, in turn, alters the shadow world and what areas Dawn can access through it. This combination of platforming and the ability to essentially create your own platforms provides a nearly limitless number of ways to explore the noir environments.
Although Contrast‘s basic gameplay is reminiscent of the Wii title Lost in Shadow, its greater inspiration is Portal, which encouraged the creation of a unique mechanic executed flawlessly, as well as seamless momentum between platforming and puzzle-solving. Dawn may be in the midst of a set of jumps in the real world and need to quickly shift to the shadow world to land safely on the next ledge; a more challenging room may require multiple objects rearranged and platform-tested before the optimal path is found. Players will need to be acutely aware of their surroundings as they gradually internalize the magical realism rule set that’s presented in the game and perfect Dawn’s shadow manipulation.
Thanks to a successful Greenlight campaign, Contrast will be available on Steam upon release this year. While initial estimates hinted we’d have our hands on this in May, a final release date has yet to be announced. In the meantime, I recommend Compulsion’s blog for tantalizing details and updates on this absolutely must-play cabaret.