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App of the Week - Contre Jour

By Matthew McDonnell

This game takes its name and its general aesthetic from the French name for a photography technique in which the photo is taken facing directly into a light source. The result is a high-contrast, heavily silhouetted image which emphasizes the shapes and lines of the subject rather than details such as facial characteristics or colors.

Contre Jour extends this metaphor into an outstanding physics-based game. Developers Chillingo stripped this game down to the bare essentials.  You’ll first be struck by a color palette that includes only black, white, and a notably vibrant shade of incandescent blue. This sparse palate makes the visual effects the game achieves that much more impressive.

The game presents a beautiful world populated by bizarre, yet somehow familiar features including portals, rolling pastoral hills belonging to another world and gently raining leaves and flower petals from plants we only vaguely know through their shadows.

The user’s objective it to get an eyeball embodied in a roughly round amorphous shape from its beginning position to a finishing point marked by a glowing blue portal. This is accomplished by manipulating several different tools found in each level. These tools include elastic and static tentacles suspended in the sky, specialized cannons, and the ability to modify the contours of the ground.

The levels become progressively more challenging, because the problems the user must work through become increasingly complex.  Later levels require experimenting with new moves, and often times repeated attempts are needed to pass a level.

Contre Jour avoids the pitfall of becoming frustrating by providing unlimited lives.  There’s a lot of learning that occurs while you play this app, so there’s no point in punishing a player for failing to pass a level quickly. This may sound like a minor feature, but the unlimited lives are provided as a careful acknowledgment by the developers that the real joy of this game consists in the process of problem solving, not in the actual solution itself.

As the app opens, the reader is given a familiar reminder that using headphones will offer a superior experience. Many apps make this claim, but it is often unwarranted.  That’s not so here. The very accessible, atmospheric, classical music that accompanies the game is soothing, but it is not the sort of music that you would put on in the background in order to relax. Rather, it becomes an integral part of the experience, communicating a feeling of calm, purposeful tackling of an important challenge.

The game opens with some credits and a note that it was inspired by Le Petit Prince, the French novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.  While there’s no need to have read the book to enjoy the game, having done so will add a depth of meaning to Contre Jour. A central theme of The Little Prince is captured in a poignant scene in which a switchman that the prince meets remarks that people are always rushing about on the trains, but only the children ever bother to look out the window.

This game, like the book that inspired it, is not easily categorized as being directed toward children. Rather, it reminds adults and children alike that sometimes we need to slow down and fully immerse ourselves in the present moment.  The reward for spending a little bit of time immersed in the world of Contre Jour is well worth it and stands as a testament to the enduring lessons of The Little Prince.

Contre Jour is recommended for Kids, Tweens, Teens, and Parents (Ages 5 and up) for universally entertaining puzzles and challenging upper levels. Find screenshots, reviews and family-friendly ratings for Contre Jour and more of the best iPad apps at Famigo.com.

Developer: Chillingo

Compatibility: iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad (iOS 3.0 or later)

App Category: Games

Price: $0.99

Famigo Family Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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