Gris is going to be compared to a lot of different games over the next few weeks despite being a unique and compelling experience on its own.
This is a journey brought about by grief, told without words, expressed through light and sound. The result is poetic and magical.
Watercolors are used throughout, decorating the environment in a pastel hue to powerful effect. Each route is given definition through a primary color really emboldening the world that lies ahead. One moment, you’re soldiering through reddened sandstorms to reach a safe inner haven, the next you’re plunging down forestry rapids, doused in yellow and green.
Gris is art, plain and simple. And I know ‘games as art’ is a phrase that makes some people cringe and groan – perhaps they instinctively think it’s all style over substance – but it perfectly defines Nomada’s efforts here.
This isn’t intended to be a conventional platformer as it’s not especially challenging or a particularly hard game. The point is anyone can pick up a pad and play Gris through from start to finish, it’s designed to be accessible.
That’s not to say the gameplay is completely basic either – you’ll still need to rely on double jumps, glides, and ‘stomps’ to see you through, but it’s certainly not as complex as, say, Mega Man, or Metroid.
Instead, Nomada Studio has gone for something deeper with their debut game. To their credit, they’ve offered a richer, more emotionally-involved title that could be likened to an interactive storybook, or perhaps more fittingly, a moving, emotive painting.
This is a world brought to life by a young girl who is experiencing great sorrow in her life. The sudden shock and surprise weaves a traumatic tapestry, but as she confronts her fears, so her emotional range grows and the world around her takes shape in enchanting new ways.
For instance, the use of shadows become more purposeful, leading to added tension. A consuming fog clouds pathways ahead to purvey an aura of mystery and suspense, and rain hammers down to enliven backdrops and even illuminate new pathways.
The whole experience feels like one long film. Natural transition between cutscene and gameplay is so seamless you’ll barely notice them blending into one another. More than that, the aesthetic is so consistently striking that I had to continuously fight the urge to screencap every shot, and go out to buy a frame to hang it on my wall.
The artistry even extends into the mechanics, as each new ability is sewn into Gris’s dress through a sparkling visual overlay, enabling her to change form to fight back against her nightmares. It’s a smart approach, produced to stupendous effect.
As you can imagine, Gris is a very special game, filled with moments you won’t soon forget but it is a game that can mean different things to different people. Where I soon found myself swept up in Journey, entranced by Celeste, and distraught because of Tetris – there’s a story to come on this soon – Gris didn’t fully resonate with me.
Sometimes it felt like the game was trying too hard to force a reaction out of me, overegging familiar beats and sequences to give me a momentary ‘lump in the throat’ moment. And once or twice, I felt briefly detached from the organic path of progression, which pulled me out of the experience just slightly.
One thing it did do, though, is make me think. I spent time reading into the art, taking the time to actually appreciate the storytelling behind it, studying and interpreting its meaning. From the ways in which you need to fight back your nightmares and ‘beat bosses’, to the use of star constellations as bridging platforms. Gris always has a message for the player, whether you choose to pick up on it or not.
And what’s becoming very clear is that independent developers like Nomada Studios are the ones evolving the conversation around gaming day by day.
While masses complain about Fortnite and FIFA addiction affecting relationships and livelihoods, and are convinced gaming needs to be expunged based on a small portion of a massive market, Gris offers another perspective, showing the emotional maturity that the medium has made in such a short time. Gris proves that gaming is more than just the same four franchises dominating the weekly all format charts
Whether AAA studios like it or not, the industry seems to be slowly moving out of its ‘Hollywood period’ as games like Gris become more of an attractive proposition with their enduring aesthetics and emotional depth. People want to feel something when playing a game and don’t necessarily get that from the licenses they once did.
It may not always be perfect or the best example of the sub-genre it finds itself in, and the price point will probably be a stumbling block for some considering the competition currently on the market, but Gris is a wonderful, mystifying, and everlastingly beautiful end to an unforgettable year of video gaming.
Code kindly provided by the publisher and played on PC