Contre Jour: Blurring the Line Between Art and Games

If you’ve read my game reviews before, you know that I put a lot of value in games that use fluid and intuitive touch controls rather than on-screen virtual controls. Today’s game is one of those games. Contre Jour from Chillingo (publisher of Cut The Rope and Angry Birds) is a physics based game that requires timing and precision.

While it’s about to be the first thing I address, I won’t be able to stress enough the artistic and creative brilliance that went into designing this game. Perhaps more than the gameplay, experiencing the visual and sonic splendor is, I would argue, the major selling point of Contre Jour.

Artistic Design

According to the opening credits, the design of Contre Jour is largely inspired by the French children’s novella Le Petit Prince. “Contre Jour,” furthermore, is a French phrase that translates to “against daylight,” and is often used to describe a specific type of artwork (often photography) that deals with light-dark contrast and silhouettes.

In this sense Contre Jour holds true to its name, with a dark and mostly greyscale visual experience. The main character is a small orb-like thing named “Petit” that you help through an environment characterized by minimalism. The art style is immediately recognizable from the opening screen.

World select.

World select.

World Two, as you’ll see below when I discuss gameplay, switches things up for variety with a negative-style neon color scheme. The whole game is reminiscent of a World of Goo art style. Contre Jour also has an utterly stunning soundtrack, and I encourage you not to ignore this when the game prompts you to put on headphones for a better experience.

Gameplay

If you’re familiar with the concept of the popular iOS game Cut The Rope, playing Contre Jour won’t be entire unfamiliar to you. The basic premise of the game is that you have to maneuver through the levels of the game using physics to avoid the traps and pitfalls the more challenging levels offer along the way.

Land reshaping, tentacles, and ropes are fundamental.

Land reshaping, tentacles, and ropes are fundamental.

One of the first maneuvers you learn is that each land mass (the large black mass that Petit is sitting on) can be molded and shaped within certain constraints. If you touch the ground under Petit, you can drag it up to create a hill that he then rolls down.

The black tentacle in the screenshot above is elastic, and will pull Petit toward its center point. Touch and drag the end of the tentacle to him to attach it and then tap the eye to release. This mechanic is often used in a slingshot-esque fashion.

The striped ropes are just that. They’re inelastic ropes that otherwise function the same way as the tentacles, but can be counted on to carry Petit in pendulum-like harmonic motion.

This level requires creative use of opposing forces to collect each light and reach the finish.

This level requires creative use of opposing forces to collect each light and reach the finish.

The goal, other than not dying, is to collect as many of the blue sparkles (up to 3) as you can before finishing the level at the larger blue glow. The game gives you a rating out of three, which is quite common among other popular iOS physics-based games, like Cut The Rope and Angry Birds. When you finish a level, you’ll see your score and be able to move on to the next.

Each level gives you a rating depending on how many lights you collected.

Each level gives you a rating depending on how many lights you collected.

The game currently has three worlds. When you progress to the second, which is subtitled “The Night”, Contre Jour employs a similar but re-styled color scheme.

The higher levels contain more complex mechanics.

The higher levels contain more complex mechanics.

In this screenshot you can see a few more elements of gameplay that you’ll need to become familiar with in order to help your character complete his journey.

First, the spikes on the left hand side of the screen remain static, simply don’t touch them. Directly across from the spikes is a blower. These cannon type things grab Petit from nearby and, when tapped, shoot him away. In this level, this mechanic is used while he is attached to a rope, to move him in a circular motion.

Finally, the portals are connected to each other and preserve momentum, so sending Petit into one will bring him out of the other with speed and direction of movement intact.

If you happen to go back to replay a level and achieve a higher score, the scoreboard upon completion will let you know that you’ve improved.

Replay levels to improve your score.

Replay levels to improve your score.

Conclusion

I found Contre Jour to be a perfect balance of “difficult enough to be challenging” and “not so difficult as to induce madness,” unlike Angry Birds where I became painfully aware of every increasingly difficult level I played. The art style and sound design is so immersive, and the touch controls so seamless that, on my first play through the game, I lost track of time and found myself at the end before realizing I’d played through 60 levels. I’ve since played through several times.

The world select screen in Contre Jour promises that more worlds and levels are coming in future updates. I, for one, cannot wait.

What’s your favorite physics-based iPad title?


Summary

A physics based iPad game that provides a rich audio and visual experience.

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