Beautiful. Intelligent. Calming. Fun.
These are the first four words that came to my mind when thinking back on my experience with the new artistic puzzle-platformer, Contre Jour. High quality games are turning up a lot more often in the App Store than they used to, and standing out from the rest is a difficult task to say the least. It’s hard to say if any one part of Contre Jour is truly original, but the sum of it’s parts make for a unique experience that is satisfying and enjoyable.
Contre Jour is a beautiful game. There’s no denying that the art style heavily resembles the console/PC indie hit, Limbo, but that’s not a bad thing by any means. The mostly gray/black color palette, film grain effect, and the out-of-focus background and foreground objects really help give a dark and mysterious aura to each new level. The animation on the main character, Petite, is suburb as he rolls, swings, and teleports his way to the end of each challenge. Most everything reacts to your touch, including the levels themselves. You can actually tap and interact with some of the background creatures in certain levels, which adds just that much more to an already impressive visual experience. It was mentioned to me that Contre Jour is inspired by the beloved children’s book, Le Petite Prince. I’m honestly not sure how this is the case, but this game makes me want to look up a copy of the book to find out.
Contre Jour is an intelligent game. This isn’t to say that the game is extremely difficult, because it’s not. I was able to fully complete all 60 levels in 2-3 hours, which isn’t bad for a 99 cent title that, at launch, advertises upcoming level packs. No, Contre Jour is intelligent because of some excellent level design that will force you to think, but not so much that you want to toss your device out the window (I’m looking at you, Angry Birds). Generally speaking, if you start playing around with the various ropes, vines, and other gameplay elements, before you know it you’ll be on your way to completing the level and feeling pretty damn impressed with yourself about it. Some of the most satisfying levels are those that require you to use two fingers to complete. I found these to be more satisfying on the iPad version due the ease of using two thumbs on an iPod Touch or iPhone. There’s just something fun about having to set down the iPad to use two hands.
Contre Jour is a calming game. It may be hard to believe, but from the elegantly simple opening title sequence to the very last level, Contre Jour doesn’t rush you or push you in any way. There isn’t a timer. There aren’t any collectibles that disappear after a certain period of time. There aren’t even any heat-seeking monsters that require you to frantically keep moving to stay alive. Some levels require a certain set of actions to complete, but most of them can be beaten multiple ways, which allows you to be creative with your solution. By far the most calming aspect of Contre Jour is it’s wonderful piano accompaniment, composed by David Ari Leon. Each world has it’s own relaxing piano melody that never gets annoying or old. In fact, I found myself just sitting there taking in the visuals and music on more than one occasion. It’s ok. Contre Jour is a game that believes in stopping to smell the roses; the black, foggy roses.
Finally, and more important than any of the aforementioned points, Contre Jour is fun. The controls are incredibly tight on both the iPhone and iPad versions, and while I feel like this was a game developed more with the iPad in mind, the game plays just fine on the smaller devices, and looks fantastic on retina displays. You move Petite through each of the levels via indirect interactions. This includes, but isn’t limited to, terraforming the ground beneath him to raise up up hills or create valleys, attaching rubber band-like vines to fling Petitie into the air, or dropping through portals to collect the three blue sparkles in each level before you touch the exit. Petite will mildly react to many of these actions as you play, but he ultimately seems pretty chill about the whole experience. In fact, if you leave him alone for more than a few seconds, he’ll start falling asleep.
At launch Contre Jour features 60 total levels that span across three different chapters. Each chapter features unique music, a different visual style, and different environmental elements to mix up the gameplay. Sure, for pro puzzle-platformers the experience will be a fairly short one, but that doesn’t mean it’s an experience that should be missed. Limbo went by very quickly for me due to my extensive puzzle-platforming history, but in spite of that, the game sucked me in with it’s spooky ambiance and creative puzzles. That said, Contre Jour isn’t necessarily a game you will go back to after you complete 100% of all the levels- or at least not until new levels are released. Chillingo has bundled their Crystal social platform, which simply isn’t up to par with OpenFeint, or even EA’s upcoming Origin. You are able to track your points for each chapter, or for all three combined, but I didn’t see a way to look at individual level scores. I also noticed that even though I unlocked many achievements throughout the game, none of them showed up as unlocked. This is less the fault of Mokus, and more in the hands of Chillingo, their publisher, but limited social support means limited replayability, or the desire to do so.
Contre Jour oozes with a dark, silky charm that grabs your attention right after you first launch the game. Before you know it, you’ll be 20+ levels deep without any recollection of how much time has passed. Mokus has put together a wonderful game that, while drawing elements from many other puzzle-platformers currently on the market, effortlessly manages to feel fresh and intriguing without feeling bloated. It’s a gorgeous, relaxing, and challenging experience that no iOS gamer should pass up, even if it’s just to play through the whole game one time. By now it’s probably already climbing the App Store charts, so why not do yourself a favor and help it along?