by Joe Matar0
Contre Jour Review
A solid physics-based puzzler wearing fancy pants.
If you ask me, the notion of games as art is a foregone conclusion. They’re a form of expression. They can communicate something. They’ve made me feel things. That’s all I need to be convinced, so the real question at this point is whether or not a game is an effective piece of art. So, what is Contre Jour? Well, it’s ineffective as art, but it is a solid, nicely animated, physics-based puzzle game.
It took some time for me to warm up to Contre Jour as I was immediately put off by its minimalist, predominantly black-and-white graphics. Black-and-white graphics have gotten away with being something of an automatic signifier of artsiness in gaming and, indeed, with a brief Googling, you can call up a number of articles discussing this title in terms of its artistic merit. However, in order to communicate a message or a sensation—the way good art does—every aspect of a work should contribute toward one core vision or theme. The indie game, Limbo, for example, has black-and-white graphics, but they’re in a story about a theoretical static life-after-death situation so a world drained of its color makes sense. Contre Jour, on the other hand, continues a growing tradition in the indie game scene of approaching its imagery in this manner simply because it sort of looks “like art.”
The game is divided into five worlds and, in fairness, in two of them the color palette is switched up, but it’s not like it goes all out with the creativity on this front. In one, black and white simply swap and, in the other, white is changed out for neon blue. Admittedly, this looks quite nice in motion as objects move around leaving behind neon trails. Still, the graphics overall are just not that interesting. They’re not unattractive but they’re not striking either. However, the animation is fluid.
The game’s music, too, seems to want you to believe you’re having a somber, contemplative time as it’s all gentle piano, chimes, and strings. But if the game yanked its graphical style from nowhere more specific than the nebulous indie ether, it very obviously up and stole its audio aesthetic from the soundtrack to the film Amélie. While it’s true that this brand of music is currently being ripped off with some regularity by advertisers and whoever cuts together all the trailers for independent cinema, I have genuinely never heard a soundtrack so blatantly pilfered. I can literally name the titles of the songs from Yann Tiersen’s Amélie score that “inspired” the Contre Jour soundtrack.
The big problem is that the music nowhere near achieves the heights of wonder of the soundtrack it borrows so thoroughly from. I felt very little difference playing the game with or without its audio on (the sound effects are suitable but also negligible). There were several times I thought a track had gotten stuck in my head when I realized that, no, my mind had just called up the piece of Amélie music the game track sounded the most like, reintroducing into my head those much more beautiful, original songs.
In short, Contre Jour seemed to really want to affect me with its presentation but instead I just saw a bunch of stolen clichés haphazardly mashed together. However, once getting past that, I discovered a solid, relatively fun, physics-based puzzle game. In it, you must help a one-eyed, bumpy ball dude pick up collections of blue lights (three in each level) and then reach an exit. This is done by modifying the environment around him.
At first, you can only alter the terrain, creating hills and valleys for the dude to roll up and down, but the game gradually introduces new mechanics, such as tentacles (ones that stretch and ones that do not) for the guy to swing around on, slingshots to launch him from, cannons, movable tentacles on tracks, extendable bridges, and some heavily Portal-inspired portals. The pacing of how these elements are brought into the game is sensible and well done. Quite cool is that some of the mechanics require quick reflexes and the simultaneous use of more than one of your fingers. For example, you might have to shoot bumpy-ball-guy from a cannon, and then quickly attach him to a tentacle before he hits some spikes.
There’s a good amount of content here—100 levels, 20 in each world. Though you can exit levels without grabbing blue lights, you need certain amounts of them to unlock the worlds. You’ll never, however, have to collect all the lights in a world and, if you find a level particularly frustrating, you can skip it altogether, so the game never gets difficult to the point of being annoying.
Contre Jour wants you to know that it looks like Limbo and sounds a hell of a lot like Amélie. But the graphics and music don’t bolster the gameplay so much as just exist alongside of it. Strip away this presentation and you’ve got a solid, effectively casual puzzle game. If a black-and-white Cut the Rope-like title with a piano-centric soundtrack is in line with your interests, do check it out.
Is it hardcore?
Summary: A decidedly solid physics-based puzzle game cheapened by its plagiaristic presentation.