System: Switch (eShop)
Release date: December 13, 2018
Developer: Nomada Studio
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Every now and again a game comes along that feels leagues apart from everything else we see in the industry. Whether through its story, art style, gameplay, or even a combination of all those elements, those titles are the ones that will most likely leave a lasting impression on us for years. Even though those games are few and far between, when they do show up it feels like a breath of fresh air in a space that can feel stale and stifling every so often. Gris, published by Devolver Digital and developed by Nomada Studio, is one of those special releases.
Gris makes a striking impression right out of the gate. The art style and direction is immediately breathtaking – with a combination of hand-drawn animation and a beautiful watercolor paint aesthetic. Although the beginning of the game is minimalistic in terms of environment and color, as the story progresses the world really begins to come alive. The story of this game is deceptively simple: you control a girl named Gris, who awakens upon a giant statue in a barren world. The statue crumbles and leaves Gris tumbling to the empty and ruined world below. As you travel the word, you discover a myriad of beautiful and serene locations in order to restore color to the world, and help Gris through her own personal journey. The story itself is told entirely through in-game visuals, cutscenes, and music. There are no spoken words and no text on screen, but by the end I was left feeling impacted in ways I wasn’t expecting.
In terms of gameplay, Gris is a 2D puzzle-platformer with tons of exploration elements thrown in. From the start, the game doesn’t hold your hand or tell you where to go. Despite the game being 2D, the paths you choose to take somehow feel entirely non-linear. Whether this is actually the case, or just excellent game design, it nonetheless succeeds in making the world feel open-ended, and gives the player a sense of impact to the journey’s course. Over the course of the game, you acquire new movement techniques and abilities that enhance both exploration and puzzle solving. Abilities like a ground-pound or a double-jump open up new paths and ways to solve puzzles, and are also implemented in various ways outside of their traditional uses. While I never had moments where I was stumped on a particular puzzle for any longer than ten minutes, there are a handful of sections that will make you stop and think. Which is an excellent thing, as stopping for minutes at a time to take in the beautiful scenery or music is something I did very often in Gris. The puzzle design and difficulty also lends itself well to a keeping the pace feeling fluid and smooth.
As I briefly mentioned above, the music and sound design in Gris cannot be understated. The game’s soundtrack is simply beautiful, with songs featuring serene piano melodies, violins, and electronic synths peppered in throughout. As there is no dialogue in the game, the music serves to enhance story sequences, exploration, and the sporadic action sequences that take place. Coupled with the soundtrack, the sound design throughout Gris really goes the extra mile in making the environments come alive. Through the sounds of bird’s chirping, water droplets dripping off stalactites, or the sounds of wind blowing through he sails of a windmill, every environment you explore feels fully realized. You would doing yourself a major disservice to play through Gris without sound, to say the very least.
Gris is a breathtaking game from start to finish. There were so many times during my eight hour playthrough where my jaw dropped, because of the beautiful scenery on display and the soundtrack elevating what was happening on-screen. With its striking art style and soundtrack the visuals alone would be enough to leave an impact, but Gris is engaging in all of the elements it has to offer. Exploring the various locales is utterly engrossing, and using newfound abilities to solve-puzzles, find collectibles, and open up new paths keeps the game feeling fresh over the course of its 7-8 hour runtime. While the story may be abstract, you’d be hard-pressed to leave the game without feeling something substantial. Short and utterly beautiful, Gris is a title that returns every minute you give it ten-fold. It’s a game that I wholeheartedly believe every Switch owner should experience.
Gris review copy provided by Devolver Digital for the purposes of this review.