Montreal-based developer Compulsion’s Contrast was easily the most polished game at PAX Prime’s Indie Megabooth. Contrast was drawing eyes from all over the show floor with its beautiful art style, a mix between the 1940s film noir era and the 1920s burlesque craze. Having heard of it all before, we were excited to give the interesting platformer a chance.

Players take the role of Dawn, a mysterious, light-footed young woman, and imaginary friend to Didi, the eight year-old daughter of a smoking hot showgirl and owner of a carnival. Dawn helps her young friend as she struggles to keep her problematic family together. Although the game is significantly story-driven, the game’s true brilliancy comes from its innovative gameplay.

Dawn standing before Ghost Note theatre, an example of the game's brilliant environment design

Contrast is a mix between a three-dimensional adventure game and a two-dimensional platformer and uses shadows as a creative game mechanic. Being an imaginary friend, Dawn has the power to switch between the physical realm and to jump onto surfaces as a shadow, taking anything she’s carrying along with her. When she is in her shadow form, players can use adjacent shadows as solid surfaces to get to previously unattainable locations and collect light orbs she can use to power more machines to create light (and therefore shadows) to proceed. Even the smallest, most common items, when placed in front of a light, will create complex forms for Dawn to navigate. Whether you’re scaling a giant rotating bicycle wheel or hopping between the horses of a carnival carousel, the shadows cast on buildings make for challenging and beautiful puzzles. As if that wasn’t awesome enough, Dawn can often request Didi’s help to solve puzzles. If a gap between two areas is too large, Didi will stand in front of the light or hold up an object, creating a shadow to bridge both platforms. Some special areas can only be explored by initiating flashback sequences, where characters’ disturbing memories are projected as shadows onto a wall so Dawn can scale their profiles as she observes the scene.

Contrast doesn’t only pride itself on its personal storyline, endearing primary duo, and captivating gameplay. The game features three theatrical numbers, evenly spaced throughout the game. Each features original music heavily inspired by the period in which the game takes place and a beautifully animated shadow montage. Although Dawn may interact with the shows, players will get a chance to observe and appreciate the work that programmers, musicians, writers, and artists have put into these performances.

Didi may be leading the way, but Dawn is always following close behind

Although the game is only a few hours long, players can look forward to a large amount of in-game collectibles. If this is something you’re fond of, you might find that Contrast offers some replay value (if you don’t decide to replay it anyways, that is).

Altogether, Contrast is an creative and touching experience. Fans of platformers, the classic film noir period, and solemn storytelling will definitely appreciate Compulsion’s game. Contrast will be available for the PC, Xbox 360, PS3, and as a launch title for the PlayStation 4 when it releases in November.