Developer: Nomada Studio
I've been following GRIS since a few months before its release last year and it's been one of my top games I've been looking forward to playing this year. Since it's release, it's received all sorts of awards and accolades. I finally picked this up on the Switch last week. GRIS is an artistic platformer where you play as a woman on an internal journey to overcome grief and trauma.
You start out in a world of black and white - bleak, empty, and hopeless. "Gris" means gray in Spanish, so I assumed from the beginning that color, of lack of color, would be important. As you progress through, you begin to gain colors back into the landscape. Almost everything you encounter is symbolic of the journey of grief that the protagonist is struggling through. First things first - GRIS is absolutely beautiful. Almost through the entire game there are gorgeous, dramatic watercolor landscapes. It's so truly breathtaking you should stop playing for a moment and take it in. The art style isn't anything I've seen in other game, it truly feels like a watercolor painting you can play through. The story and feelings are only shown to you, as this game has no dialogue. It feels appropriate as you're experiencing physical manifestations of grief after a terrible loss.
GRIS was highly anticipated for me and I wanted to fall in love with this game like many others have. I was excited that it came from a studio in Spain, I was excited for its highly praised emotional storytelling, and I was excited that it had a beautiful and unique art style. I've mentioned in previous reviews that I do like platformers, but for me to love them they have to have stand-out mechanics, something that makes them stand apart from thousands of other platformers. Unfortunately, GRIS didn't do anything impressive to me in the way of mechanics. I'm definitely not one to prioritize gameplay feel over other aspects - but it truly felt like the minimalism in this key area went too a bit far. Gaining abilities along the way definitely helps to keep the journey more interesting, but often times it still feels like the game and story is outside of your control. Some "boss battles", or critical moments, weren't really something you could lose or even do much to alter. Even so, in the moments that this game felt times like a movie, was still very enjoyable to watch. I'm grateful they added the swimming ability and made it fast and powerful - it was probably the part of the game where I most enjoyed just exploring and moving about.
Sound was also a vital part of this game. At times, there was complete silence, and every little movement sound was impactful. Even though the soundtrack is really beautiful, one so soothing you could use as meditative background music, at times it felt very unbalanced. It would have an extremely subtle track, almost like environmental sounds, then an extremely loud sound, harsh effect. I understand this was likely a purposeful choice so that you could experience the discomfort that the character is feeling, but in the end it convinced me to turn my volume to be lower and therefore I wasn't enjoying the soft melodies quite as much. I don't think it's ground-breaking as far as gamer soundtracks go, but it's a very good use of environmental music and sounds that portray a certain emotion.
I feel like it's a trend to see games play with the idea of gravity flipping in platformers, but GRIS is the only game so far that I've seen do it well. It wasn't done for long enough to get annoying (it's hard to play with the screen upside down, okay) and the physics of it worked really well, especially combined with swimming portions. Wherever these shifts were incorporated seemed to make sense with the puzzles. Overall, the fact that this game had no real "rules" in terms of world-building made for some really strange and unexpected exploration. Every area you traverse through is somehow connected to the next, even if it often involved falling deep into darkness until you were in a new place.
There's close to no other characters in this game. The protagonist encounters monsters she must run from, but in this world it could be assumed that she is running from her own demons. There seem to be small creatures, faceless and almost shapeless, that are either just not interacting with you or in one case, help you move forward. I wish this one specific helpful character had been in more of the game, because it was definitely one of my favorite parts.
Many parts of this game are missable - I think in this case that's a plus, since the original game is fairly short and going back to make sure you fully capture every goal definitely makes it a longer challenge. I don't consider length of a game as an indicator of its quality. However, for some reason I went in thinking GRIS was a much longer experience. I think the gameplay continually improved as you were given more abilities, and had I been given more spaces and context in which to use them in, it would have made them even better. The story did feel well tied together and extremely moving in the ending, but I guess it came to a close when I didn't quite expect it. I would happily play a couple more hours of a game like this.
GRIS is a successful and watercolor painting-like artistic game, but I wouldn't call it a masterpiece in every aspect of it. It definitely has an artistic direction that's incredibly bold and I hope to see in more like this in future games. It also makes for a serene experience that can easily be replayed and enjoyed multiple times, which I plan to do. I recommend you play this game in a quiet, peaceful space and definitely take your time with it. It's storytelling in an evocative and raw way, and it made me feel like I could begin to understand what it must feel like to plummet into such painful and world-shattering loss. I'm sure it resonates with many who have experienced this, and I hope it provides healing in this way.
GRIS is available on PC and Nintendo Switch.
Played on: Nintendo Switch
Playtime: 3 hrs
How I heard about this game: Twitter