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Video Game / Contrast

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Dawn and her shadow form.

Contrast is a Puzzle Platformer, developed by Compulsion Games. Set in a 1920s styled, jazz themed world, players take the role of Dawn, a mysterious invisible woman who has the power to become a shadow on the wall, and use the shadows as platforms. Only Didi, a young girl whom Dawn aids and protects, can see her.

Together they unravel the secrets of Didi's family: her mother, Kat, a rising star lounge singer and Kat's ex-husband Johnny, a con man in debt to the wrong people.

The game was initially released on November 15, 2013, for PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and PC, with the PlayStation 3 release following on November 19. The game was also ported onto Xbox One on June 26, 2014. Pre-orders came with a theatre-style "programme" featuring a cast of characters, concept art and behind the scenes notes.

This game provides examples of:

  • Artistic License – History: Disney's Mary Poppins is (indirectly) referenced by Didi at one point. In 1923. Nine years before even the book it was based on was released. This could be case of Alternate History.
  • Blatant Lies: Kat claims to Didi the gun she had was a toy. If you don't let Didi intervene the argument in time, you will know that it isn't.
  • Burlesque: Didi's mom engages in this. Also forms a major part of the game aesthetic.
  • The Chanteuse: Kat is a professional singer and a rising star. She gives a performance early in the game.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Didi refers to Dawn as an "acrobat" in connection to her platforming abilities as well as being able to lift giant cannonballs and boxes. We later learn that she was a magician's assistant, which presumably involved some acrobatics.
  • Con Man: Johnny has a history of this though he usually means well, which has landed him some bad connections.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Johnny claims his finger was broken by catching it in a dresser door, er door— car door.
  • Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: Dawn never "dies". If she falls off the level she pops back with no penalty and in the princess puppet show she just gets knocked out and can go right back in.
  • Developer's Foresight: Many of the actions one takes the other characters will comment on in the game. Jump on Didi's shadow on the merry-go-round? Didi will apologize for getting in the way. Fail to open the door to have Didi stop the argument with her parents? Kat will accidentally shoot Johnny.
  • Disappeared Dad: Johnny is missing from Didi's life, though not by choice.
  • Fairytale Motifs: The Princess Puppet show's story mirrors the game's own story. The king worrying for the princess represents Johnny and how concerned he is for his wife and daughter's well-being. He employs a knight to help, just as Johnny asks Vincenzo to help him in his show. While not as helpless as the knight in the story, Vincenzo proves unhelpful when he initially refuses to help out of pride. So just like the princess, Didi and Dawn help Johnny's show instead.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • You realize that no one is able to get to Vencenzo's lab aside from Dawn using her shadow powers. Revealing that one requires shadow powers to access the lab.
    • Earlier, Didi mockingly mimics Vincenzo's refusal to help, almost verbatim. This may hint that she's related to Vincenzo.
  • Gameplay Protagonist, Story Protagonist: You play as Dawn, the invisible friend of a young girl named Didi. Because Didi is the only one who can see Dawn, Dawn's role in the plot is limited to helping the actual main character Didi as she tries to get her parents to repair their relationship.
  • Get-Rich-Quick Scheme: A big part of Johnny's backstory is that he's engaged in many such schemes to support his family. His lack of success, and the fact that this tends to put him in debt to some very bad people is the main reason why Kat kicked him out.
  • Glorified Sperm Donor: A partial aversion. By the end of the story, Didi and Vincenzo are on good terms, but she still cares more about Johnny as a dad, and is happier to have him back in her life than her biological father.
  • Heroic Mime: Dawn has neither dialogue nor personality, though she does have some backstory.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: Apart from Dawn and Didi the characters in the game never appear on-screen, being only depicted as silhouettes, to keep with the game's shadow motif. But there is official artwork that you find in-game of them, such as Kat's poster for her show.
  • Imaginary Friend: This is what the adults think Dawn is to Didi. Kat even tries to convince the authorities that it's perfectly normal for little girls to have imaginary friends like that.
  • In the Blood: Didi has an affinity for the shadow dimension, just like her father Vincenzo.
  • Invisible to Normals: Only Didi can see Dawn. Also inverted, as Dawn can only see Didi - other people can only be seen by their shadows.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: At the end of the game, Johnny tries to do this as he tries to convince Vincenzo to look after Kat and Didi since he is Didi's real father and Johnny believes he will just get them hurt one day. All three manage to talk him out of this.
  • Jazz: The musical style of the game.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Despite how cruel Vencenzo is to Didi, such as telling her straight to her face he never wanted a kid, he is 100% right about it. He knew full well he was not father material from giving a child support to being too busy to spend any time with a child. He even makes a point to Johnny that letting Didi stay with the magician would be a bad idea, given Vencenzo's work takes him to dangerous, far away places.
  • Jerkass with a Heart of Gold: Vincenzo reveals to be one. At first when Didi manages to get into his workshop and tells her who she is he flat out accuses that her mother put her up to this and he never wanted a child right to Didi's face. However by the end of the game he reveals that he actually does care for her to which he had sent his former assistant Dawn look after her.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: In the puppet play, platforming in an enchanted forest: "She used the magic mushrooms to get up."
  • Living Shadow:
    • Dawn can become one at will, and it is the core mechanic of the game.
    • Characters apart from Dawn and Didi appear this way as well, though it's implied this is only Dawn's perception of them rather than reality.
  • Loan Shark: Johnny is in debt to one, whose goons break his finger to send the message that his plan to pay them back better succeed.
  • Loveable Rogue: The exact words used to describe Johnny in the cast list in the programme.
  • Lovely Assistant: Dawn. Before she was trapped in the shadow dimension, she was Vincenzo's assistant in his magic acts.
  • Mind Screwdriver: The final act provides a quick explanation for the shadow shenanigans.
  • Mundane Utility: Vincenzo uses his power to go between dimensions to assist in his magic act.
  • Non-Standard Game Over:
    • "Unfortunately, she impaled herself on the bamboo. Wait, that's not what happened!" *game over music*
    • This also happens if you do not open the door to let Didi stop her parents' argument. Kat will accidentally shoot Johnny and kill him.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You…: Dawn receives no damage no matter how high she falls from.
  • Only in It for the Money: Vincenzo's reason for being in the circus as he is in debt.
  • Percussive Maintenance + Have You Tried Rebooting?: The rollercoaster has some major design flaws that prevent it from operating. You fix it by shooting cannonballs at malfunctioning parts and then turning it off and on again.
  • The Roaring '20s: When the game is set. Heavily uses the art style and music associated with the times.
  • Scenery Porn: The game does a great job with the detail of its levels.
  • Sitting Sexy on a Piano: Kat's performance as The Chanteuse begins with her laying on a piano, lifting one leg in a sensual fashion, blowing a kiss to the piano player, and then slowly getting up to continue the song.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Smarter Than You Look: Despite Didi's cheerful outlook, it is clear in her dialog that she is well aware of her parents are at a rocky point, money problems, her father's habit of messing up, and that her real father is Vincenzo.
  • Stage Magician: Vincenzo. His acts actually use moving in and out of the shadow dimension to make things appear and disappear.
  • Supermodel Strut: Kat moves in a slow and sensuous manner during her act as The Chanteuse.
  • Superpowerful Genetics: Didi gets her ability to perceive the shadow dimension Dawn is in from her father, Vincenzo.
  • Swapped Roles: A meta version is present in story considering the traditional roles of the archetypes. The princess in the circus story (played by Dawn) has to keep rescuing her Distressed Dude knight in shining armor.
  • The Reveal: Despite being apparently a figment of Didi's imagination, Dawn is in fact a very real adult woman who just happens to dress like a showgirl, be completely silent, is capable of acrobatics worthy of a ninja, and is able to magically disappear into the shadows. This actually makes perfect sense, given that she belongs to the one profession in the world where all these talents are legitimate job qualifications- a magician's stage assistant.
  • "Test Your Strength" Game: One of the puzzles involves using the shadow of the weight of a Test Your Strength machine as an improvised moving platform (it makes sense in context).
  • Throw It In: An in-universe version. During the Princess Puppet Show, Johnny asks the audience what the princess did to get past a pit full of spikes. Didi suggests she used an umbrella like Mary Poppins. Dawn does just that.
  • Undying Loyalty: Dawn does whatever Didi asks her to, without question. This may be an extension of loyalty to her former partner Vincenzo, as Didi is his daughter.
  • The Very Definitely Final Dungeon: The Lighthouse. It takes everything you have learned up to that point to pass it.
  • The Voiceless: Dawn never says a word, having Didi do the talking for her.