Gris is a beautiful game about fear, emotions and overcoming grief and loss. The game is a watercolour painting comes to life and a game that energises the sense with fluid movement and a wonderful soundtrack.
In the game, you play as a young woman named Gris. She’s been through some trauma and at the start of the game is so weak she can hardly walk. Desperately seeking something Gris manages to find the strength to keep walking forward. At the start of the game Gris’ fears, worries and pain take the form of a flock of birds looking to attack her. At the start of the game Gris is weighed down by grief and loss but as you progress you the game and gather more abilities and strength you’ll master your surroundings becoming much more nimble and quick as you glide in the gorgeous surroundings.
The art style in Gris immediately catches the eye. The game is like a watercolour painting come to life and the animation is elegant, fluid and a joy to take part in. There’s a hand-painted and crafted look to the game that compliments the game’s story and draws you into Gris’ world. At the start of the game, the world lacks colour as to match the mood of the main character – weak, diluted and lost. Later in the game, the art style moves to bright colours with a flourish of movement representing the growing strength of the main character as she rediscovers her strength. The game pops and swirls with brushstrokes, colour and life. Sometimes you’ll look down at the screen and just smile at what you’re looking at. There was a moment when I walked onto a platform and all of a sudden I was inside a huge bug-like creature walking across a desert as the camera panned out to show the scale of the creature I’d just hopped onto. It’s great.
Sound design is another part of the overall package of Gris that will impress you. The music and sound effects compliment the emotional journey of Gris from the delicate music to the falling rain. Much like the watercolor art style literally paints a picture on your screen the soundscape in Gris perfectly matches the situation be that calming and exploratory to more upbeat and urgent when it needs to be.
The story in Gris is relatively light on details and is highly visual. Gris, the main protagonist, has lost her voice due to immense grief and is searching for something. Weak, broken and empty Gris wanders the deserts, forest, and underground caves talking to friends and enemies learning new skills along the way. It feels like something straight out of art school, where the story isn’t laid out there in simple terms for the player, but one where the player can figure out what it means to them.
Gameplay evolves over time. Gris is a platforming game that will fairly simple puzzles as obstacles and over time new skills will become apparent allowing you to interact with the environment in new ways or battle against the ever-changing elements in the game such as wind and rain. There’s a satisfying sense of momentum to the game found in other recent platformers like Celeste or King’s Bird where the environments support and propel you in the right direction.
Gris is full of metaphors from the flock of birds that attack for fear, red wind for anger and blue water for depression. It’s nice to see games tackling these issues and guiding players through worlds that maybe aren’t perfect where the protagonist has clearly been through some huge personal tragedy trying desperately to rebuild themselves. Due to the silent nature of the main character sometimes it does feel a little tricky to feel an emotional connection to her.
The game itself isn’t too challenging with a mixture of platforming, puzzles and utilizing player abilities and learned skills. The player won’t spend more than a few minutes with the puzzles as the designs feel initiative and welcoming. Each new level comes with a new ability for the main character which changes her look through the cloak, for example, turning into a heavy block to stop you getting blown back by the strong winds, or the ability to smash through floors. Once you complete levels you’re returned to a central hub world where your new abilities are collected in the form of a constellation of stars – it’s definitely satisfying adding to this collection.
Gris isn’t long and could be played in an afternoon or on a train or plane ride. However, there are parts of the game that can feel a little frustrating. Sometimes the background and foregrounds merge, making it a little confusing where to go or how to get there. The game can sometimes feel a little oversimplified in its puzzle design, meaning it’s a breeze to run through. These are minor gripes however in an otherwise unique game.
Gris isn’t a long game only taking a few hours to complete, however, it’s an experience that should not be missed. It’s uniquely beautiful with a combination of art, sound, and movement that all add up to a very satisfying experience. I played the game on Nintendo Switch.
Developer: Nomada Studios
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac,
Release date: 13 December 2018