Developer: Nomada Studio
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC
Review by Jay Borenstein
Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to be asked by Rogues Portal to write a review of Celeste, an emotionally impactful indie platformer that heralded a brilliant year of games ahead. Now, as 2018 winds down, I’ve had the amazing fortune to be able to play the artistic and emotional indie masterpiece that is GRIS. It’s been a pretty stellar year for gaming.
GRIS is no less than a painting come to life, and will handily help elevate the idea that video games can be art in the minds of those snobs that still feel otherwise. On this short journey, I felt wonder, surprise, sadness, and hope. This first game by Nomada Studio out of Barcelona, featuring the artistic direction of painter Conrad Roset, is turning heads–and with good reason.
The gameplay is fairly straightforward with some light puzzle elements, but GRIS isn’t out to hurt your pride over a difficult bit of platforming. Similar to other exploratory games such as Journey, GRIS is crafted as an experience to be played multiple times over.
Restoring What Was Lost
GRIS (the French word for gray) begins with a young girl having her voice and all the color of the world ripped away, beginning a journey that will slowly see everything she has lost restored to her. There is no speaking, no explicit story of any kind. The entire game is a metaphor for dealing with a painful experience, and like any good piece of art is open to interpretation. You may want to keep a box of tissues handy.
GRIS is divided into different areas, each of which requires you to gain an ability and restore one color to the world. As you progress through these stages, you’ll encounter obstacles that can’t be overcome until you collect stars hidden throughout the stage. These stars unlock new abilities for the protagonist and draw paths as constellations for you to walk on.
While the challenge is light, that’s not to say there’s no gameplay here. Puzzles involve mechanics like turning into a block to stomp open new areas or brace against the wind, playing with gravity to traverse from the ceiling to the ground, and using light to reveal platforms for a limited time. While there’s no way to die and no combat, there is an enemy you are pitted against–but saying more would venture into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say, the times when you face up against this enemy are truly intense and a big part of your experience.
The game mechanics are well-integrated into the world and don’t feel forced, but there are a few hiccups. Sometimes it’s easy to confuse an element in the background as a platform, and some foreground elements that you need to pass through are difficult to distinguish from regular walls. The most frustrating issue I found for completionists is that when you’re seeking the optional collectibles it’s very easy to stumble into a point-of-no-return and then you’re out of luck.
Though the issues mentioned above did remove me from the experience for a brief time, GRIS is otherwise a seamless experience through a truly unique world.
A Painting Come to Life
No game I have played has ever truly realized the idea of existing in a painting quite like this one. Most of the visual elements in the game were hand painted, and the entire world has a pastel aesthetic that starts off gray and springs to life as the protagonist recovers more of herself. The geometry of the world is both straight and curved, full of gorgeous nature, small creatures and abandoned crumbling architecture. The sky bleeds like watercolor paint running across a page. You get a glimpse of a beautiful fantasy world, in which you’re left to determine just what and who the protagonist is and the relevance of her mission.
Every visual element of this game works gorgeously together, and it’s so beautiful that you feel empowered seeing the world’s colors slowly become restored. The animation is mind-blowingly fluid. The still images I captured for this review honestly won’t do them justice. Trees that flux in and out of existence, sandstorms, and giant mechanical mysteries are just a taste of what to expect. Not to mention the game’s enemy, which is truly menacing and must have taken countless hours of work to animate.
The entire game is only around 4 to 5 hours long, but the low price tag warrants the amount of content. Besides, this is a game I can see myself playing countless times, not to mention showing off to friends.
Verdict: Play it!
GRIS is a beautifully unique game that manages to amaze every second you play. For less than the price of two movie tickets, you can treat yourself (and a friend or partner) to a truly emotional experience that, like your favorite movie, demands to be revisited again and again.
Gris is available now on Nintendo Switch and PC.