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Contrast: The use of opposing elements, such as colors, forms, or lines, in proximity to produce an intensified effect in a work of art.

All video games have some kind of contrast, but perhaps none quite so much as the game named after it. Contrast, the latest XBLA title released on Xbox 360 and not only does it use opposing colors, but it also has a fondness for opposing lines. Two things which are both used to produce an absolute work of art in puzzle form.

Aptly named then.

But games don’t always succeed on the strength of the graphics alone. Nowadays, in the pretty well defined gaming era that we are currently in, the strength of story is just as important. Contrast doesn’t let us down on that front either with a rather riveting affair.

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You control Dawn, the mute (obviously!) imaginary friend of a little girl, Didi. Didi has a bit of a rough time in the family stakes. She lives alone with her mum, a cabaret singer, whilst her father, Johnny is a bit hit or miss as to when he is around. He’s also a bit of a loser struggling to make ends meet and more often than not, gets himself mixed up with the wrong crowd. The story is a powerful one that tells of a little girls struggle to fix her dysfunctional family, but is also one that progresses nicely throughout, and shouldn’t be spoiled in a review. That is something I have refused to do in the past, and is something which I’ll continue to do now.

What you do need to know is that anyone involved in the story, other than Didi, can’t see Dawn. Similarly, Dawn can’t see the others except for their shadows. She is, after all, an imaginary friend. But Dawn is unique in many ways, her main one being the ability to transcend light and with Didi’s help, solve the puzzles that will get the family back together again.

This is where the 3D and 2D aspects of the game come into play very nicely. Switching in and out of the 2D shadows is seamless and once you’ve mastered the knack, you quickly find yourself flipping between the two states quickly and effortlessly. Most of the puzzle side of the game is planted firmly in the 2D shadows but in order to solve them, you first need to arrange and then rearrange objects found in the normal fantasy 3D world. These puzzles really don’t require too much of thinking about and aside from one or two, can all be solved quite quickly. It’s this lack of engagement on the puzzle front that slightly detracts from the whole experience. Whilst there has obviously been a lot of effort put in to make the puzzles interesting and stimulating, you can also tell that the developers, Compulsion Games have wanted to make the whole thing friendly enough and simple enough to understand in order to get the masses on board. Perhaps, future titles or sequels will give them the opportunity to push the boat out with something a little more problematic and refined.

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You’ll also find a number of collectibles scattered around the game. You won’t have to look far to find them though as the majority spring up right in front of you as the story progresses. Just like the main puzzles, a couple will require a little thinking to grab, but again, nothing too taxing takes place. On one run through the game, I had collected all bits and pieces needed with the only hassle coming from the fact the game managed to lose track of what I had and hadn’t collected. The cheevo for the collection popped, but the first 50% of those collected mysteriously vanished from sight…..never to be seen again.

There are numerous problems with the game and it’s little bugs like this that could do with being ironed out. There were also countless occasions when Dawn would get stuck in a certain position with the only option being a full reset. Others when she would stand still, shuddering for no reason, unable to move. Whether it was the dark 1920’s style that got to her or not, I don’t know! She’s also a little tricky to handle at times and the combination of a very lightweight control system and a sometimes overly enthusiastic camera can occasionally cause frustration, normally at the most vital of times!

Achievement hunters will rejoice in the knowledge that the 400 gamerscore on offer is possibly one of the easiest I’ve noticed for some time. First playthrough nabbed me all but four cheevos and the remaining 50G on offer will easily be picked up on a further achievement collecting session.

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Contrast is a very good game. I enjoyed it immensely, loved the story and found myself feeling for the characters. The puzzles are a tad easy but I could have quite happily sat listening to the jazz musical scores for a long time to come. It does however need to see some bugs ironed out and whilst none are major game changers, they do slightly detract from the whole experience. The potential is there and I’d love to see Compulsion do something along the same lines again, just this time with perhaps a bit more refinement.

If a patch drops to fix the little issues and it drops slightly in price, then there’s no reason for you not to pick this up. If those things don’t materialise, then you may want to think again because at over a tenner, it’s a fair old whack for something which is ultimately just a decent five hour storyteller.

txh rating 3