Contre Jour: It's Unlike Anything You Haven't Seen

Contre Jour came home from E3 with a chest full of ribbons from major league critics and became a lot of people's most anticipated indie game or mobile game. It's been out for a week now, and while it does a good job of living up to those expectations, the expectation of a unique experience is not one of them.

In Contre Jour, by Mokus, (99 cents, all iOS devices) you manipulate an unnamed, blinking ... eyeball thingy named ... well he doesn't have a name. Your job is to get him or it from one point on the platform to a glowing escape. Picking up clusters of lights (three in all) are a bonus objective to the level.

To do this, Contre Jour gives you a limited terrain shaping ability, to create hills, ramps and stops, but it's not terribly precise or responsive. Varieties of tentacles, some very stretchy (with attendant slingshot physics) and some fixed-length ropes, also carry your creature to his objective. Your job is to figure out how to swing, fling, slingshot or drag him to his goal, avoiding the bottomless pit and other hazards.

It's fun and challenging. No question. But for a game this polished, making so many deliberate appeals to one's artistic sensibilities I can't let it off the hook there. What really narrows my eyes to Contre Jour is the derivative nature of the mechanisms. The tentacles are reminiscent of Cut the Rope. Terrain forming, especially as it pertains to locomotion, we've seen before. The backlit visual style and haunting music strongly recalls Limbo (if less macabre).

Contre Jour does indeed have a very nice original score by David Ari Leon (I say that like I know who he is; I do not), but it seems like you get one tune per grouping of levels (there are three worlds, totalling 60 levels, to begin). And that plaintive tune on endless repeat, which conjures to mind lost childhood and dead pets made me want to commit suicide. I had to mute it. I will allow I was in a bad and vulnerable mood when I played.

Through all of that, I think it's a winning combination of some of independent and mobile gaming's greatest hits. When you finally figure out how to ascend, with six tentacles, to the exit, you do so with palpable smugness. And the little guy, whatever he is, does add a dash of personality.

Last week I got a little red about derivative iPhone games and here I am going easier on one that conforms to that definition just as much as any other game. I think the smart puzzle structure wins it a pass. Contre Jour is a very good game, and certainly very creative. But it had a lot of help.

Contre Jour [iTunes]


You can contact Owen Good, the author of this post, at owen@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.