I feel like it’s commonplace for indie games to focus on emotions and mental health issues that we as humans may deal with at some point throughout our lives. Celeste, Night in the Woods, Sea of Solitude and That Dragon, Cancer are all examples of such games that spring to mind, each telling important stories that focus on human emotion. Gris is yet another indie title with an exceedingly important message, telling a tale about grief and the hardships you go through in your attempts to not be overpowered by it.
The story quickly introduces us to the titular protagonist Gris as she awakes in the palm of a statue resembling a woman. As she attempts to sing out to the statue, her melodic voice vanishes, causing the statue to crumble and send her to the colourless depths below. In this alien world, our mute protagonist must ultimately try and find her voice again, while bringing colour back to her world.
Gris’ narrative is one that revels in its ambiguity, and I honestly wouldn’t be too surprised for many to initially not know what is going on. As you progress through the story however, it becomes clear that Gris is a tale about grief. I don’t want to delve deeper into the narrative for the sake of not spoiling it, but Gris undoubtedly succeeds in telling a lovely, emotional tale, even more impressively without a single line of dialogue. Not a single word is uttered throughout Gris, and the fact that it still manages to deliver on its story and strong themes is extremely admirable.
Even when environments are devoid of colour, Gris still looks absolutely stunning
Complementing the storytelling of Gris are the jaw-dropping visuals and the magnificent soundtrack, which work expertly to create a truly gripping atmosphere. Gris sports a unique art style I don’t think I’ve witnessed in games before. The art utilises water colours to create true works of beauty, and while water colours are typically somewhat faded, the colours on display here are intensely vibrant. A melancholic masterpiece, the soundtrack succeeds in heightening the level of sadness and emotion the game wants you to feel, with Gris’ singing pieces being my undisputed favourite tracks. All of these aspects blend together to form one of the most engaging and pretty games this year, but I guess it’s also important to determine whether or not the game is actually fun to play isn’t it?
Gris is full of breathtaking watercolour landscapes
Luckily, Gris is a joy to play, despite the overall simplicity in its design. Gris was never intended to be a game that challenges its audience, instead its gameplay serves to allow the player to explore and interact with the world, so they can in turn digest the narrative. Gris at its core is an adventure-platformer, with the goal being to progress through multiple sections of the world, collecting little star-like orbs and bringing colour back to the world. Collecting these orbs can allow Gris to traverse previously inaccessible areas, with the orbs connecting together like constellations in the night sky to provide a platform to walk upon. Some orbs can also be used to gift Gris new abilities, which manifest in her dress. For example, one ability lets Gris turn into a giant block, allowing her to weigh down objects or break suspicious-looking flooring. Another ability sees Gris’ dress transform her into a stingray-like creature, allowing her to glide through water. These transformations are creative, and aid in adding variety to what is otherwise very basic platforming. That’s all there really is it to Gris’ gameplay. There is no fail state or overly difficult segments in Gris, leading to an overall serene gameplay experience. While this may annoy some, it allows the narrative to take centre stage.
Gris’ Stingray form is my undisputed favourite transformation
A minor gripe I did find in my initial playthrough was the fact that there is no way to view a map to see your orientation within the world. While this only frustrated me when I got lost or was trying to track down the collectible mementos, it would have been nice to have a map to aid me in those moments. I also would have loved to have seen more platforming abilities for Gris, but I do of course understand that the lack of further abilities is likely in part due to the length of the game. I would have loved to see Gris offer up more of a challenge, yet at the same time I have the utmost respect for Nomata Studio and their decision to craft a gameplay experience that prioritises interacting and experiencing the world, as opposed to making the platforming and puzzles overly difficult.
While the gameplay is admirable, Gris’ story is what matters most
Much like other indie platforming gems of the past such as Inside and Limbo, Gris gameplay is simple and its narrative is ambiguous, leading to it becoming a breeding ground for discussion on how it should be interpreted. It isn’t a platformer that asks much of the player, something I feel will lead to some negatively referring to it is a ‘2D Walking Simulator’, yet despite this, I can totally appreciate the game’s reason for doing so. The reality is, despite offering up enjoyable gameplay, that’s not what Gris wants you to focus on. It’s begging for you to absorb the wondrous story it tells, along with the beautiful soundtrack and stunning visuals it uses in perfect unison to create one of the strongest atmospheres I have ever experienced in games. Gris may not be a difficult platformer, however the way in which it tells its story is worth the price of admission and your time alone.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher