Where do I begin with GRIS, the first title developed by Nomada Studios? Every once in a while you come across a game that is so mesmerising and impactful that you’re left in complete awe and disbelief. The last game that hit me this hard was Journey back on the PS3 in 2012. It’s strange for me to start a review by saying this, but honestly stop reading now and just go purchase the game and experience it for yourself. I went into GRIS completely blind and I’m grateful for this as it made the game that little bit extra-special.
If you’re still reading, then settle in for the journey and get ready for me to awash this game with the praise that it deserves. I’ll start with the most obvious highlight – GRIS is easily one of the most visually striking games you will ever play. I can only describe it as being sucked into a living water-coloured painting and an honourable shout-out has to go to Conrad Roset – a Catalan artist who hand-painted and pencilled everything for this game. Screenshots alone, while still gorgeous, do not do the game justice, you have to see it in full flow and marvel at how the delicately pencil-drawn animations and breath-taking use of colour, make the world come alive.
GRIS opens with a young girl sitting on the palm of a giant female statue with cracks running through it, the girl tries to speak but appears to have lost her voice. The statue then begins to shake before completely collapsing sending the girl tumbling through a colourful sky where she lands in a very sterile grey whitewashed desert. This opening sequence is pretty vague, there is no narration, and the only background you receive to the story is from the studio’s own game description which states that “Gris is a hopeful young girl lost in her own world, dealing with a painful experience in her life”. This description, the loss of the girl’s voice and the colourless world she begins in, truly reflects the game’s title and her name being Gris which means ‘grey’ in Spanish. She starts the game completely lost in grief, unable to walk a few paces without falling down. She tries to speak but can’t. The story is open for interpretation but I see it as Gris having to find her inner strength to overcome grief and it’s reflected rather brilliantly through the use of colour and the game’s environments becoming more detailed and vibrant as you travel through the world.
Each area of the game has the discovery of a new colour. From the initial bleak grey desert of simple drawn bridges and stairways, it’s not long until you reach another giant statue, like the one from the games opening cinematic. Here Gris floats in the air, holding her head as if in emotional pain, before beautiful pulses of red water-colour drops appear, gently stroking pinks and reds into the environment. This appearance of colour for the first time, complemented by the melodic piano music, made me overcome with emotion. It was like seeing Gris’ first steps to recovery and it hit me harder than I ever thought possible. There was no story narration expressing her feelings, just the incredibly clever use of colour changing the depressing terrain into something alive and with meaning.
As Gris traverses this wonderful world she finds more giant statues which will allow her to find the strength to come to terms with the grief she is feeling and in doing so, new colours are unleashed into the world. These colours suit perfectly with the environments that are unlocked. After the swirling storms of red, greens appear next and bring the lush forests to life. Blue follows, as does access to levels with vast volumes of water and the final colour that Gris expresses is yellow and this directly relates to you platforming high up in the night sky with a dazzling moon and stars shining brightly. Each separate environment is detailed with cute little touches and abstract designs. Within the forest section, the trees are drawn as thin unnatural rectangle shapes with triangular leaves, it’s in this location that you come across a strange cube creature which initially runs away from you. However, as you knock down some apples for him to feed on, he will begin following you, even mimicking your moves and in doing so help you to solve some puzzles to be able to progress.
My favourite area, and it’s a shame that you are only in it very briefly, is when you land in a room where the ground is white and fills half the screen and your shadow is perfectly mirrored into the ground with flying black paper birds swirling around you. On the half of the screen where the true Gris is, there a few pots littered around, grey female statues holding their face in their hands and floating pollen-like orbs that slowly rise up the screen. The contrast is phenomenal but it’s when you start to move and see your shadow imitating your move set that I literally gasped in awe. It was spectacular and unfortunately all over way too quickly as you soon find yourself racing back up to the surface sprouting out of a volcano.
The environments are designed in such a way that is linked directly with gameplay and the skills that Gris develops. Initially, GRIS is a very simplistic 2D side-scrolling platformer where you simply run and jump along bridges, buildings and stairways collecting white orbs that represent stars that follow you. When you come across faint constellations in the sky, the collected stars will join it, making it become solid for you to walk on. This acts as the games main goal in finding these orbs, to open up new pathways, but they are also used on ancient glyphs that give you abilities.
The first ability that you unlock is being able to turn Gris’ cloak into a stone block, which of course, is beautifully animated. This is effectively used again a whirling storm which initially blows you backwards, but equipped with the cloak, you’re able to slowly walk against this wind to progress onwards. With this ability you can also do a ‘block stomp’ move where you jump, turn into the block and then can crash down on cracked surfaces to fall through, opening new pathways. The real interesting use of turning into a block is when you encounter the games first boss battle. I say ‘battle’ but within GRIS you can not die, which helps make the game incredibly calm and stress-free. You can miss-time jumps to ledges which look as if you will fall to your death, but there are always bridges or in one levels case, a windmill-style sail that will open to catch your fall.
The boss battles themselves work more like a puzzle where you have to figure out how to outwit the opponent to be able to proceed. The first boss enemy that appears is a giant swift/swallow (I can never tell the difference between the two birds) made of ink that will flap its wings causing a gust to blow you off platforms. Timing your jumps and transforming into the block is essential in landing on platforms or hitting the large bells which scare the bird off. The bird looks so remarkable, being able to morph into ink and paint across the screen before reforming into a bird again.
Later on, the ink monster will take the form of a giant eel, chasing you through the deep watery caverns, being able to split into two eels and then hundreds of little eels before you outpace them. However, you’re only free of the terror for a short while, as soon, the only jump scare in the entire game arrives when the fully formed eel reappears from no-where, narrowly missing snapping you up for lunch. Finally, this intense ‘battle’ concludes with another fast-paced action sequence!
Apart from the block ability, you also learn to double jump and, pretty obviously seeing as I have stated about water levels, you gain the ability to dive deep into the depths and swim as a triangular sting-ray looking creature. The final ability that you gain is the most profound. After everything Gris goes through on the road to recovery, she is finally able to find her voice again and with it, she unleashes her magnificent singing. This ability opens up new pathways in the most beautiful way by having plants, flowers and vines grow. It’s a truly lovely representation of finding yourself and becoming whole again. It’s also a testament to the Barcelona-based group Berlinist who provided the emotional score for the game. Often the music is subtle and rather haunting, only changing from piano melodies to string-based instruments for the intense chase sequences. The soundtrack suitably compliments the artistic visuals, making GRIS the complete package and by the time you reach the final scenes of the game, which I won’t spoil, the incredible use of colour and music has created a powerful gaming experience quite unlike anything I have witnessed in all my near 30 years of playing video games.
It’s also a testament to the Barcelona-based group Berlinist who provided the emotional score for the game. Often the music is subtle and rather haunting, only changing from piano melodies to string-based instruments for the intense chase sequences. The soundtrack suitably compliments the artistic visuals, making GRIS the complete package and by the time you reach the final scenes of the game, which I won’t spoil, the incredible use of colour and music has created a powerful gaming experience quite unlike anything I have witnessed in all my near 30 years of playing video games.
I’ll conclude by saying I think it’s quite obvious how much I enjoyed playing GRIS. These were some of the finest five hours I’ve ever spent within a game. I could easily write a great deal more about it but I want you to experience it in all its glory. The astonishing visuals were like a drug, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and wanting to get back to playing more. I’m thankful there are still collectables, 28 in all, called ‘mementos’ that I haven’t found so I can return to the game. I’m even tempted to purchase GRIS for the Nintendo Switch so I can play on the go and experience it on my large television screen and showcase its wondrous beauty to my friends and family.
Do yourself a huge favour and buy this game and get lost in a piece of art that is not only a joy to play but will also hit your heartstrings too. For me, it’s easily the finest Indie game I’ve played this year.
- - Beautiful watercolour art style
- - Incredibly moving soundtrack and creative sound design
- - Strong underlying metaphor of finding inner strength
- - Gameplay grows and evolves and is simple and very effective
- - I only wish the game could have been longer as I didn’t want it to end