Shadow Dancer: A Contrast Video Review
Contrast is the debut game from the Montreal based Indie game studio Compulsion Games. They describe the game as a shadow based platformer that allows you to move between the 3D “real” world and the 2D “Shadow” world… but it’s much more than that.
The game centers around a young girl named Didi and her possibly imaginary friend Dawn. Didi’s father is a somewhat deadbeat lug named Johnny and her mother is a burlesque dancer named Kat. Dawn has the ability to phase into shadows at will, which is used as both a platforming element and a puzzle solving element in this game. You’ll find yourself escorting Didi on a variety of tasks to help her father launch an amazing circus act and get his family out of debt.
While this sounds like it could be the plot to a Disney movie, there’s actually a surprising amount of dark moments. Every character in the game with the exception of Dawn and Didi are depicted as shadow silhouettes on walls… giving the game a very isolated vibe.
The game also has images of French clowns in it… easily the creepiest of all clowns.
What makes this game a joy to play is a unique gameplay hook that I’ve never seen done in a game before. When in shadow form, the game becomes a pure 2D platformer, with the projected shadows from objects becoming your platforms. The design gets very clever as things like bicycles and even the actors themselves become dynamic platforms. Most puzzles are solved by collecting what are called “luminaries” to power various lights and pieces of equipment. There’s also classic gaming tropes such as places boxes on weighted triggers, but you’ll definitely not finding yourself repeating the same puzzles over and over.
Besides collecting luminaries, you’ll also find yourself collecting scattered collectables around the city that flesh out the backstory of the game. I wouldn’t quite call this an open world game, but exploration is encouraged… even if it is somewhat limited. Some major plot points like who Dawn really is are revealed in collectables, so trying to find them all is highly encouraged.
Another complaint would be not having the ability to zoom in on collectables as this game is available in high resolution for the PS4 and PC.
You’ll find yourself with you face inches away from the screen trying to read what some of the letters and newspaper articles are saying.
The sound design is handled in an intelligent manner with an overall minimalistic approach… which makes the moments when the soundtrack does kick in all that more impactful. You will definitely have the main title theme playing in your head well after you finish the game.
The voice acting is kind of hit or miss. Didi is voiced by a child actor, and at times her acting is simply not good. I can see how the imperfection would add to the realism of the character, but the game does not have a realistic art style and has a fantasy based storyline.
I fell in love with Clem in The Walking Dead, but Didi tended to get on my nerves. On a lark I set the game to French and actually found those voices to sound much better… but unfortunately there’s no option to play with just French voices but English subtitles and menus.
The animation is very hit or miss as well. With only two 3D characters in the game; neither one is very well animated… especially when Didi speaks. The 2D animation on the other hand is fantastic and seems to be made from simple geometry that’s shaded black to look like a shadow. It's visually akin to Twisted Shadow Planet or Limbo. The city where the game takes place is also well designed with a kind of art deco atmosphere to it. The environments where you solve puzzles remain relatively small to the rest of the city as to not over-complicate the gameplay.
Contrast can be completed in five to six hours, but finding all the luminaries and collectables lengthen that considerably. The game is also not without its share of bugs and glitches… but for a game where you basically walk into walls that kind of comes with the territory.
It seems that the design of the puzzles was based on one way of meeting the objective, and trying to solve the puzzle in an alternate manner can sometimes lead to being trapped inside or stuck to objects.
Some of the puzzles can also be solved in a kind of brute force manner where you might find yourself overshooting something and falling to your death… but then spawning at the next objective. There were no true game breaking glitches I encountered in my play through however. There is a “phase dash” style move that lets you pass through thinner shadows which helps you to escape (or get stuck).
For the $14.99 price tag this game is definitely worth it, and PlayStation Plus users have no excuse as it is available for free right now for PlayStation 4. Surprisingly the game is available on Xbox 360, but will not be released for Xbox One. For a new developer to achieve such a unique title, I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on what Compulsion Games has planned next.
Now if all that there word reading is too fancy for you... just listen to an idiot talk about the game for 10 and half minutes.