Gris (pronounced Grease) is a beautifully animated first outing from the new Indie company, Nomada Studio. It’s an evocative tale of emotional turmoil that uses color to convey the development of the game’s main protagonist as she grows after suffering a devastating trauma.
The word “Gris” means grey in French, which obviously holds significance in a game that relies on color to convey different emotions. The game begins with our main character, full of life and color, singing a beautiful melody before she abruptly loses her voice and her world is stripped of that vibrant color. The ground cracks beneath her and she falls through it, tumbling through the air. For me, this was the “emotional trauma” that kicks off her journey through a grey world, as she searches for the color that it once held.
If I had to give it a name, Gris is more of a “puzzle platformer” more than anything else. Yes, you gain new abilities that let you explore the game further, but there is no real boss “fights” or player death in the game. This, in itself, relieves it of the “Metroidvania” categorization I thought it would fall into based on the gameplay and trailers I had seen prior to the game’s release.
Personally, this is a can’t miss title but I can see it being one that some won’t take to as much as others. Gris is a casual, (mostly) relaxing experience where you guide this lost girl through a gorgeous, colorful world. There are no fights, there are no deaths, there are puzzles and exploration and that’s about it. While this isn’t a deal breaker, those looking for more might be disappointed. Gris isn’t that type of game though, and that’s completely ok. Puzzles are challenging, controls and animations are fluid, and your time with this game will feel meaningful regardless of a lack of enemy encounters or boss fights.
Gris is a simple game, with simple controls, and a straightforward premise and all of that lends itself to what makes this game so enjoyable. Even with an absence of tutorials you never feel lost. Exploration is part of the experience, and going off the beaten path either leads to a collectible or to a star that you need to collect. So regardless of your decision, the path you choose pays off. If you wind up at a dead end you take the other path and you’re back on track. If you ever end up unsure of where to go, the camera slowly gravitates in the direction you need to go.
Impasses in the game are solved by collecting all of the stars within an area. Small white glowing dots trail behind you as you find them. When you find enough, they join together to form a constellation and your way forward is unlocked. In between these sections Gris takes you on a linear path that leads to a new ability. Once obtained, you utilize this new skill to solve the puzzles in the area and collect all of the stars. Doing so adds a new color to your protagonist’s world. She curls up in a ball and cries as this new color splashes over the screen like watercolor falling off a brush. It’s a truly beautiful sight that sends a wave of emotions over you. It’s almost cathartic and as you breathe this unintentional sigh of relief, so does she. It’s a feeling few games can evoke, and Gris does it so naturally.
After each color is released a “boss” of sorts will then chase you. This is as close to a boss fight as you’ll get. While there is no climactic battle against these towering creatures, the chase to get away from them is just as tense. Escaping from these beasts sends just as much adrenaline through you as any boss fight would.
While my time with Gris was spent on a PC, knowing this game is available for Switch is something that needs to be touched on for a moment. While it’s great you can take this game with you anywhere, it feels like playing this game in handheld mode does it a disservice. I’ll be the first to admit that almost any game that releases now comes with a question of “is it coming to Switch?!”, but experiencing this game on anything other than a huge screen with the volume cranked is no way to play this remarkable title.
Gris envelopes you in this wonderfully crafted world with one of the greatest soundtracks I’ve heard since God of War. It’s moving score lends itself to the emotions this game makes you feel and is an essential part of the experience. While it doesn’t have as much action, or large scale battles as we’ve grown accustomed to playing, Gris is simply a work of art that should be experienced by everyone.
Its lack of dialogue forces you to feel and draw your own conclusions, but the ending is just as moving regardless. If you don’t get a little teary-eyed, you’re not the right person for this game. Coming in at around 5 hours of playtime, it doesn’t demand much of your time, but when you are playing it, it demands your full, undivided attention. Gris is a fantastic accomplishment that will leave you excited to see what Nomada Studios comes up with next.