Plenty of 3D games make a big deal of the quality of their shadows, but when it comes down to it they're visual flourishes that don't really impact gameplay; they just add a welcome extra layer of visual fidelity to the experience. Contrast is different; its shadows make up a vital part of the game.
Already an award-winning hit on PC and consoles, it's a 1920s puzzle platformer from Canadian developers Compulsion Games, and it's just arrived on NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV. The Android TV is the latest addition to NVIDIA's SHIELD range; a powerful set-top box that can stream movies and TV shows in 4K Ultra HD. The new NVIDIA SHIELD is also a perfect big-screen gaming system capable of streaming top PC games from the cloud via GeForce NOW, as well as running premium Android games – many of them exclusive to SHIELD in 60fps 1080P.
This new version of Contrast is only available for SHIELD Android TV, because it requires a lot of power to create its mysterious world of shadows. In Contrast you play the part of Dawn, an imaginary friend to a young girl named Didi who has a whole world of troubles: her mother leaves her alone at night when she goes out to sing in nightclubs, and her estranged father has got himself in trouble not only with the police, but also with a crew of violent gangsters to whom he owes money, and one way or another they're ready to collect.
Didi's father has a plan to turn his life around: he plans to set up a circus, but all is not well. The prospective star of the show is a magician with massive ego, who needs convincing to join up with this new enterprise, and three of the circus attractions aren't yet up and running. With opening night approaching, it falls to Didi and Dawn to help get things on the right track.
Luckily Dawn is blessed with an unlikely superpower: she's able to become your own shadow and walk across other shadows, opening a whole new world of adventure. Impassable barriers suddenly become easy to get around as you shift into the 2D plane and take a shortcut along a shadow pathway.
What makes things even more interesting is that when you're in the 3D world, you can manipulate objects and light sources in order to move shadows around, creating your own pathways where previously none existed. As Compulsion Games' creative director Guillaume Provost explains: "Effectively you have an infinite amount of ways in which to manipulate the environment and traverse the environment in the game through the shadows."
It makes for a whole range of challenging puzzles in which you have to scale walls and buildings through clever arrangement of lights and shadow-casting objects – not to mention the business of powering up lights in the first place by collecting Luminaries scattered around the world – but it also means that getting Contrast running on Android was quite a technical challenge.
With shadows making up so much of the gameplay beyond attractive window dressing, there's a real need to ensure that they're precisely rendered. "That was a very unique requirement that specifically requires a lot of fill rate," says Provost, "and that wasn't really available on mainstream Android or mobile devices."
However the SHIELD Android TV features NVIDIA's best-in-class Tegra X1 mobile processor, a quad-core 64-bit beast that brings next-gen gaming to the Android platform, and it's proved to be perfect for Contrast's unique mix of shadow play and platforming action. "I'm really impressed by the end results," confirms Guillaume, "running at a very smooth frame rate and having the clear, crisp visual fidelity of the original version of the game."
Contrast is available to download now on Google Play for $14.99.
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