GRIS was developed by a Spanish indie company Nomada Studio. Two devs decided to leave the world of AAA prestige and together with Conrad Roset, the artist they met in Barcelona, founded a small company to produce independent titles. GRIS is their debute game, it launched December 13, 2018 and was published by Devolver Digital. The fact that GRIS was released immediately after TGA-2018 allowed it to be nominated for TGA-2019. It won Games for Impact.
Even if you haven't played GRIS, you've probably seen a couple of screenshots or a game cover. GRIS is a gorgious game thanks to its artist Conrad Roset, who now teaches illustration at the School of Design BAU. GRIS is a perfect balance between sharp lines and geometry and free-flowing watercolor. You will be gradually restoring colours to the world: red, then green and so on. Monocoloured worlds are surprisingly rich and contrasting: a beautiful tapestry of light and shadow, warm and cold hues of the same basic colour. 90% of the time you won't even realise you are seeing almost exclusively red, or green, or whatever colour you restored.
Each colour has its own symbolism. We all know that colours mean something to us because of the stable connections we've build for thousands of years as a human race: blue means water, green means forest, and so on. The forest will embrace you in the world of green, and the world of blue feels spacious and ocean-y, like in ABZU. Gris herself is dressed in black, and it makes her stand out in any environment, which is also a great artistic choice.
I love how the game uses zooming out to show you Gris as a small and fragile child in a huge magestic world full of air. It allows you to not only appreciate the artistic aspect of the game and to see the level architecture on a bigger scale, but it is also a part of the emotional journey you take. Zooming in on Gris and then immediately zooming out to reveal the bigger picture might be inspiring or deeply moving, as well as unsettling. Surprisingly enough, the zoom itself is so soft and seamless, you won't even realize it's happened.
The animations are so smooth and happen so organically, especially the dress - it's pure magic to watch. GRIS is visually impeccable, it brings me great joy just to watch this game. It soothes my soul.
Listening to the world
This game has no voicelines, no dialogue - only music and environmental sounds of nature. In games like GRIS, which are more about the emotional experience than the gameplay itself, music is one of the few tools available to make an impact. Berlinist, a music band from Barcelona, composed all score for GRIS, and it's impossible to imagine music that is a better fit for the artstyle and the emotional tone of the game, they are just indivisible. The soundtrack makes you listen closely, freeze on the spot, run with the wind in your hair; it makes you happy, and scared, and joyful. It's forever in my heart.
You know what to do
The game shows mechanics to you rather than explains them, and it's always a good thing, expecially if it works. Here it does. The game is very intuitive, it shows you a couple of button hints at the very beginning, so you'll know how to move and stuff, but it never gives you a heavy tutorial on the new abilities you gain. New mechanics are taught to you so gradually and implicitly, you will never remember when you learned that if you did this thing, you will get that result. I love when games do that. GRIS is a small game, it is not complicated of anything, it's only common sense that there wouldn't be a full-on tutorial on world interactions. They are all so natural and logical, you will be able to figure it out yourself.
GRIS has two main gameplay elements: platforming and puzzles. It is also a bit of metroidvania, in a sense that every chapter you gain a new ability that allows you new interactions and more complex puzzles. The platforming is pretty simple and completely devoid of simple pleasures you'd find in almost any other platformer: spikes, acid puddles, buzzsaws and such. You can't even die in GRIS. Platforming here is more of a subtle accompaniment to puzzle-solving than jumps and flips for the sake of jumps and flips. However, I want to stress that platforming in GRIS gives you an incredible inspiring feeling of air and space, like one you can experience in A Story of My Uncle. If you leap in the air - you do it with force, like a bird taking flight. If you jump - you jump high, with a beautiful arch to your movement. If you fall - you fall sweeping fast, it's breathtaking. There aren't many games that can give you these feelings, and GRIS is certainly one of them.
Road of stars
The puzzles in GRIS are not complicated at all, but they are quite imaginative and do not repeat themselves. You don't have to have 200IQ to solve them, even the most elaborate ones will probably take you a couple of minutes. The purpose of the puzzles - and of the platforming too - is not to stop you from progressing, not to hinder your journey, but to enrich it, give you more emotions. And that's beautiful.
To stumble upon a game with a good pacing is a rare thing. GRIS is a beautifully balanced game in this sense: platforming, puzzles, cutscenes and "bossfights" are all placed in a surprising harmony where not one of the components is dragging out so long you'd get tired. I am shocked, to be honest. Even big veteran development companies often fail when it comes to pacing, but Nomada Studio seems to pull it off effortlessly. Bravo.
No secret endings
I don't like secret endings where you need to pick up a dozen of collectibles or meet a bunch of conditions to see how the game really ends. I can get over it in an action game, an adventure or a true-platformer, but GRIS, I think, would have been ruined by it. Just imagine - blasting through a 3-hour emotional journey on a single breath just to realise that everything was in vain because you missed some silly thing at the start and did not pick it up, so no true-ending for you. Fortunately, there is only one ending to GRIS. You can, however, get access to a secret cutscene if you collect all specific items, and it will tell you more about the story, but the finale is always the same. Thanks for that.
Playing GRIS is like breathing, it's seamless. The game doesn't ask you to break your fingers on platforming or twist your brain is a knot while solving puzzles. You are just moving forward, solving riddles, jumping - occasionally falling but it's not frustrating at all. The description says that it is a game «free of danger, frustration or death», and it's very true. The purpose of the game is not to frustrate you by giving you challenges so you'll spend half an hour on a single screen trying to overcome them. There are already hundreds of games like that, and that's awesome. GRIS shows you that if you fail - it's okay. There is no punishment, you can try again, fail again, and no one will be there to point fingers. It's quite refreshing. Perfectly smooth animations when changing states of Gris make gameplay even more fluid and wholesome. You don't have to stop anywhere. Just play - and breathe.
If you want to buy GRIS becase it a platformer or because there are puzzles in it - drop this idea, otherwise you'll join the ranks of the disappointed gamers who wanted a hardcore puzzle-platformer. GRIS is more of an emotional experience and even a form of art with stunning visuals and a complicated emotional narrative. It does not invent a new type of puzzles or platforming. If the games for you are not just about overcoming challenges and you can spare several hours to play GRIS - please do. Regardless of whether or not you have experienced the same thing Gris has - and I hope you have not - I think, to some degree every one of us can relate to her and sympathize with her.
I can't remember when was the last time I played a game so whole, fluid and well-paced that could also boast the indivisible combination of artstyle and music.
Playtime — 3hrs