Contre Jour: Surreal & Soothing Puzzler

Chillingo’s Contre Jour is a perfect game for chilling out, as its seller’s name suggests. This wonderfully weird title takes players on a soothing little trip through a world that’s clearly on the flipside. Contre Jour is a French term, mostly used in film and photography, that means “against daylight.” The twilight world of Contre Jour’s odd little hero fits its name perfectly.

Of course, there’s more to the story. Just click on to find out.

Gameplay

As far as gameplay goes, Contre Jour is a puzzle game. The aim is to help the player character, the mysterious Petite, make it to the glowing blue orb in each level. Petit is high on charm but low on methods of locomotion, so it’s up to the player to figure out how to utilize the landscape to get him to where he needs to go.

Swinging better than Tarzan himself!

Swinging better than Tarzan himself!

The landscapes are creatively composed and otherworldly, full of things like earth which responds smoothly to the touch of a finger to Petit’s friends, an assortment of whimsically designed creatures each with their own talents.

Interface & Functionality

To that end, the controls for Contre Jour are simple and based on touching various elements of each stage to guide Petit on his path to the orb. The controls are so intuitive and hands-on that tutorials are probably not necessary, but they’re there. And, like everything in Contre Jour, gracefully integrated to enhance the overall gaming experience.

Not exactly the fat man's squeeze but...

Not exactly the fat man's squeeze but...

Contre Jour’s title brings to mind something you might see at an indie film festival, and the game has a feel not unlike that. It’s part film major senior project, part puzzle game, and the combined effect is absolutely gorgeous.

Melancholy and moody, the dark ambience of Contre Jour somehow manages not to be depressing. This effect is doubtless due to the elegance infused in every aspect of the game. The character design, while simple — Petit is basically an eyeball with a tail — has a peculiar irresistability to it.

Design & Performance

The environments are surreal to the point of being dreamscapes, but the well crafted in-game physics immerse the player in this alternate reality. The puzzles themselves are progressively more challenging, which are themselves a reason to play the game. The puzzles of Contre Jour aren’t so difficult as to be frustrating, but they are complex enough to give the game substance.

There are three worlds, each with twenty stages, and the amount of content is substantial yet somehow it’s still not enough. This is more of a compliment than a criticism, however. The sense of Contre Jour falling short is directly related to the fact that it’s so enjoyable I just didn’t want it to end. More levels are on the way, hopefully.

Only an octopus could do better

Only an octopus could do better

Contre Jour’s cachet is indisputably its aesthetics. The elegance and grace with which this game is designed is impressive, and even more so when one considers the minimalistic simplicity the direction of that design. Contre Jour impresses not with an explosion of color or 3D graphics, but with two dimensional settings that could have been rendered in pen and ink or watercolor washes.

Color is muted where it exists at all, but the shades of grey in Contre Jour are never boring, just as Petit’s seemingly simple goal to get from point A to point B is always engrossing.

Value

The goals may be simple, the designs may be minimalistic, but it’s the contrast and creativity that bring this game to life. While Contre Jour’s gameplay can be compared to World of Goo or even Cut the Rope, this game has what so many others lack. Instead of focusing on a new technique in controls or some sort of technological graphics gimmick, Contre Jour is pure personality.

Gives Dhalsim (from Street Fighter) a run for his money

Gives Dhalsim (from Street Fighter) a run for his money

If the breath-stopping beauty of its visuals aren’t enough to hook you, the audio will. Contre Jour isn’t a game you’ll want to default to your playlist. For the full Contre Jour experience, it’s almost a necessity to put your headphones in and lose yourself in the gorgeous compositions that accompany the visual journey.

Contre Jour might not shock you with anything that you’ve never seen or heard before, but for a humble little mobile puzzle game it has a suprising ability to open your eyes and ears in a new way. Doing so while putting your mind to work on puzzles makes Contre Jour simultaneously stimulating and soothing.

Closing Thoughts

The $.99 pricepoint on Contre Jour might seem higher than average for a fairly simple game, but that’s only because we’ve become used to the slapdash quality of so many other simple apps. Simple doesn’t have to mean mediocre, and putting that idea to rest is Contre Jour’s coup de grace. This is certainly one of the most inspired casual games in the iTunes App Store; $.99 is a small price to pay for what amounts to a visit to a mental spa.


Summary

Blurring the lines between games and interactive art, Contre Jour welcomes you to a hauntingly beautiful world shaped by the interplay of light and darkness.

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