The watercolor graphics and dreamy soundtrack steal the spotlight, but Gris is more than a pretty game.
You don’t need me to tell you that Gris is beautiful – the art style was the focus of its entire marketing. It’s true, though; Gris looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous, and I couldn’t stop taking screenshot after screenshot, each one a work of art.
If you look beyond the captivating watercolor visuals and haunting soundtrack, you’ll find a relaxing platformer with themes of grief, loss, and trauma.
I say “themes,” because Gris doesn’t really have a plot. The game is clearly about dealing with a traumatic event, about picking up the pieces and building yourself up again, but there’s no actual story. We don’t know what that event is, or how our character is “getting better.” What we do get is a series of beautiful levels that use music and color (and lack thereof) to convey the current emotional state of our character.
Gris’s story isn’t the strongest, but it’s not interested in telling a story. The game cares more about evoking emotions and presenting the familiar concept of the “five stages of grief” in a beautiful, touching new way, and it does so remarkably well.
Having such a broad story that solely relies on vague themes of loss could have been a problem since it’s easy to ignore or overlook. However, developer Nomada Studio chose to tell that story through the game’s graphics and music, and those are hard to miss.
50 Shades of Grief
Gris is Spanish for “grey,” but the game is anything but. The watercolor graphics and ethereal soundtrack create charming, emotional moments throughout the entire thing. The game is beautiful in every way possible, and each frame is a masterpiece you just want to hang on your living room wall and appreciate daily; I do, anyway.
I’m no art critic, so I can’t really comment on style or technique, but I do know I absolutely love Gris’s visuals. I don’t usually take screenshots of games I play, but before penning this review, I had to sift through more than a 100 images to choose which ones I’m going to use here. Hopefully, they are enough to show you just incredibly good-looking this game is.
What I can’t show you is how well the visuals combine with the brilliant soundtrack. The band Berlinist provides a fantastic, moving score that fills every minute of gameplay with meaning, serenity, and melancholy all at once. It fits the dream-like aesthetics of the game perfectly.
Free of Frustration
Beneath all the pretty graphics and sounds, there’s a fun platformer with a few original concepts. It’s not a challenging one, as the developers wanted to create an experience that’s “free of danger, frustration or death,” but solving its many platforming puzzles is still rewarding. That is mostly thanks to the diverse environments you explore, and the powers the protagonist collects along the way.
As you progress through the game, our silent main character gains the ability to change her dress into different shapes that let her overcome puzzles and environmental obstacles. You can use a cone shape to glide, transform into a heavy block to break stuff, and change into something that resembles a stingray to swim, among others. It’s a clever concept that evolves the character while still keeping its distinct look – blue hair and a flowing dress.
While most of the game isn’t much of a challenge, finding and collecting all the secrets is. If you want to solve these optional puzzles, you’ll need to know how to use your powers and the level itself to your advantage. Some are admittedly easier to complete, but others require a few tries until you figure them out. I didn’t find all secrets on my first run, so that’s an excellent excuse for playing Gris at least one more time.
Putting the Pieces Back Together
Every excuse to replay Gris is a good one since the game is rather short. I finished it in about four hours, but they were four hours full of beauty, intriguing themes, and fun gameplay. I plan on going back and playing the game at least one more time to unlock all the secrets (and take more screenshots).
But even though Gris is a relatively short journey, it’s one worth taking. I personally did not connect with the themes and story, though I was often moved by the melancholy and doleful atmosphere the visuals and music foster. It’s a powerful experience – one that is most likely to stick with you long after the credits roll. For that alone, I would recommend playing Gris.
Of course, there’s always the fact that it is the prettiest game of 2018.