Every so often a game comes along that just looks so beautiful that I simply have to play it. Admittedly, it’s what initially drew me to GRIS – the new 2D adventure from the team at Nomada Studio and published by Devolver Digital – with the stunning environments and tranquil vibe really drawing me in to take part in the adventure it offered. It’s finally released now and I’ve played it through to its conclusion, and thankfully this isn’t just a case of ‘style over substance’. In fact, GRIS is actually something a little bit special and is one of those games that will stay in my mind for some time…
Those hoping for some deep or involving narrative might find themselves a little disappointed – GRIS lacks any words and instead tells its tale through the stunning sights you see throughout the game. This isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, with the intention being for the player to decide themselves what exactly is going on. It’s clear that Gris, the titular protagonist, has gone through some form of heartbreak, but what it was and how she is coping with it is for you to decide yourself.
There is a goal that anyone who plays the game will be able to settle on though: to bring back colour to the world, with each one representing the range of emotions felt by Gris and also evoking a reaction every time they’re brought back. Again, it’s symbolic of something, but that’s up to the player to interpret.
One interesting thing about GRIS is that whilst you’re leading the hero on this heartfelt journey, you’re in no way guiding her to safety. The reason for that? There’s no threat out there. You’re not facing off against beasts in battle, working through dangerous traps, or sneaking away from a deadly menace – in fact, you can’t die at all in the game. It is instead more of a peaceful and serene adventure, where your main goal is the find the glowing lights that form the constellations that make the path Gris needs to progress.
It’s a simple formula, but it’s one that does enough to make the four-hour adventure feel worthwhile. That’s not to say that the adventure doesn’t have some challenges though, with GRIS featuring its fair share of platforming sections and even some simple puzzles to solve. Sure, nothing will ever feel particularly challenging and you won’t feel your skills pushed to their limit (unless you REALLY struggle with jumping between platforms), but it is nice to have something in the form of proper gameplay to make GRIS feel like more than a pretty walking simulator.
There are even additional challenges and secrets to uncover if you venture off the beaten track a bit, so there’s a sense of exploration to be felt if you actually look for it. There’s even a few boss encounters thrown in the mix too, though I have to emphasise that they’re ‘encounters’ – calling them battles or showdowns would be a bit of an exaggeration given the form they take in-game. But hey, they’re still a neat addition and add that little something extra to the whole experience.
The levels themselves are made up of a good range of environments, with the likes of derelict ruins, blooming forests and underwater caverns to explore. Some of these locales might not be too impressive at first, but as you unlock the colours that form them they just feel a lot more beautiful – trust me, GRIS is one remarkable looking game. Throughout each environment you’ll also unlock new skills that help you progress, with things like a double-jump helping you get to those hard to reach areas and the ability to sing allowing you to interact with the world in different ways. Granted, these are pretty minimal additions to Gris’ skillset seeing as the game doesn’t really emphasise platforming and puzzle-solving all that much, but they do at least offer a few more ways to traverse across the impressive landscapes.
Whilst they’re mostly impressively designed, I should mention that some of GRIS’ levels could feel a little awkward to navigate. There were often platforms and pathways that didn’t always stand out that well in the background, with some easily missed thanks to the focus on particular shades of colour. Granted, it probably didn’t help that I was primarily playing the game on the Switch’s portable mode, but still, some could be hard to make out. It’s a minor qualm in what is otherwise a very impressive experience, but I noticed it enough to make it worth mentioning.
One thing I’ve yet to touch on is just how bloody stunning GRISis, and believe me, the visuals are astounding throughout. Between the enchanting and beautifully drawn environments and the smoothly animated characters, everything just looks so visually striking that it’s hard not to feel blown away. Calling it one of the prettiest games I’ve ever played would be an understatement and with every sight I saw in the game I was left that little bit more impressed. The screenshots don’t do it justice, believe me.
The soundtrack is absolutely on point too, with every piece fitting the melancholic vibe of GRIS perfectly – that being said, it’s also not afraid to steer towards a more uplifting piece when it needs to. Every so often a game has a musical score that simply feels right in every single way, and GRIS is a fine example of that. Combine that with the stunning visuals and its clear to see that it’s one of the most beautifully presented games of 2018.
Gris offers a simple and peaceful adventure where you don’t have to worry too much about the hazards that might be lurking ahead of you, but instead get to appreciate the jaw dropping sights that are all around instead. Sure, there are a few platforming sections to get through and even some puzzles to solve, but there’s no denying that they play second fiddle to the visual experience and symbolical tale that’s being told.
Whilst beautiful though, it won’t be for everyone. Those who like their platforming and puzzles to offer a challenge will want to steer clear, whilst those who prefer their stories to be more clear probably won’t enjoy Gris’ enigmatic tale either. It’s certainly going to be a divisive release, but those who can appreciate a unique and touching experience should certainly be on board.
Personally, I found Gris to be incredibly impressive throughout and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the journey. I’d be lying if I said the gameplay itself blew me away, but seeing the stunning and colourful world form around me is something I’ll never forget.
Developer: Nomada Studio
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC