Written by Kevin O’Connell
Gris grabs your attention the moment you’ve cast your eyes on its unique, evocative artwork by Catalan artist Conrad Roset and hear its perfectly scored soundtrack by Berlinist. It is the story about a girl who, after dealing with a painful experience and seeing her world fall apart, creates a dreamlike state made up of metaphors as a means to vent her sorrow and find her voice.
Gameplay is straightforward, however cleverly done to make the more difficult puzzles satisfying to complete but not stop you in your tracks and cause frustration. While most great platformers pride themselves in their difficulty, that’s not the objective of Gris which favours to wow you with beautiful imagery and music that also act as your reward for progressing in the game and completing the more challenging puzzles.
There are a few puzzles that will leave you momentarily scratching your head, but you can just keep trying as there’s no “fail state” where you’ll get sent back to some checkpoint miles away. All puzzles have small, but easily noticeable visual clues which give you more than enough information to keep a nice flow to the game rarely needing you to stop, unless it’s in awe.
While there are no spoken words, its visuals remain implanted in my memory two weeks later and prised far more emotion from me than games most people consider triumphs in storytelling. Something of high praise coming from me is that while playing I regularly had flashbacks of playing Journey, one of my favourite games ever made, just this was in 2D with more vivid and expressive use of colour.
The story is told through gameplay and level design rather than directly to the player leaving lots of room for players to come to their own conclusion. Crucial to this world are the statues and monoliths you come across providing some context to this world, as well as each stages’ use of colour. Early on it’s easy to understand the symbols of anger and depression, but the game changes its primary colours going forward to represent each phase of how Gris feels.
To say any more will spoil what the game is about as you don’t truly understand until the ending. As I said, there’s a lot of room to come to your own conclusion as the game’s completely abstract, so how you interpret it might be very different to myself. But that’s what art does. Every stage is a moving painting paired with a beautifully layered soundtrack in which Berlinist play more with your heartstrings than they do a piano.
While only 3-4 hours in length, Gris excels in making it feel longer than reality from how packed it is. I can count the games from last year that gave me truly memorable moments on one hand, all of which needed twenty or more hours to finish only still to feel less satisfying and memorable than a single evening experiencing Gris.
While there are a few minor issues they are only really noticeable because of how simple the game is. One is that some columns aren’t very clear whether or not they are in the foreground, and instead of going through them you just run into a wall. Another is if you are a completionist who wants to gather all the mementos, it’s not clear as which direction is the main path and you’ll end up getting locked out of the previous area having to replay to get all the collectibles. An annoyance for achievement-hunters, but honestly it’s the only reason to replay the game outside getting a craving a few months/years later or forcing a friend to play it and watch their face in wonderment.
As someone who usually writes way too much and my reviews end up having to be cut down because they’re way too long, my biggest complaint about Gris is that because it’s such a simple game, I struggle to think of what to say. Anything I say won’t be enough to do justice to what is a masterpiece in colour and sound. I’ve been thinking for two weeks what to write in this review, but tripling down on its artistic direction is my position every time.
Screenshots alone don’t do Gris justice, but it won’t stop you wanting to take them every new scene. It is something that needs to be played to understand just how beautiful this is between its powerful and inspiring artwork, graceful animation and a dynamic soundtrack that are sewn together with expertise and elegance.
I wholeheartedly recommend playing Gris, especially in the dark with headphones and a blanket. For Nomada Studios’ first game it is a testament to their creativity and handling of touchy subject matter. It also gives me another reason to love publisher Devolver Digital and their more hands-off approach to the developers under their wing, while giving them the support they need to see their vision realised, giving many “Triple-A” publishers something else to learn from.
The game is available on Nintendo Switch and PC for €16.99. Get it, play it, love it! It is a must-buy. No word if it will be on PS4 and Xbox One that I can see, but I expect there will be an announcement made soon enough. That said, this will run on a toaster, so if you have a PC/laptop made at least in the last couple of years, you’ll probably be fine. System requirements are below if you’re unsure.
OS: Windows 7 or later
Processor: Intel Core2 Duo E6750 or equivalent
Memory: 4GB RAM
Graphics: Geforce GT 430 (1024 MB) / Radeon HD 5570 (1024 MB)