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Review: Gris is what happens when games and art collide

Published: 16:09, 30 January 2019
Devolver Digital
A tower with point based lines of light, from Gris video game
Gris

Developed by Nomada Studio and published by Devolver Digital, Gris is an artsy platformer that launched in December 2018 to great critical acclaim, which we're putting to the test today. Is Gris a gem or a bunch of art hiding a faulty game?

Whether you love it or hate it, which is likely to be a relatively quick decision, one thing's for certain - a few minutes spent in Gris is a profound enough experience not to be forgotten for a while, or likely ever.

Not just because of your character, even if you're bound to empathise with her plight a few minutes in. Not just because of the music either, as magnificent as Berlinist's work may be. Not even for the obvious organic texture of watercolours, which permeates every meticulously hand-drawn frame of Gris.

No, what makes Gris move is the harmonious dance of all three, a gentle sway that leads a player through colours and moods few games would dare to visit, let alone evoke with such confidence and to such an effect.

Nomada Studio shared just enough of the story to pique players' interest, writing that "Gris is a hopeful young girl lost in her own world, dealing with a painful experience in her life." We don't think it's possible to spoil Gris though, as the entire experience seems so incredibly subjective and intimate.

Of course, different players are bound to interpret different levels, colours and moods differently and therein lies that which connects Gris with some monumental works of art - the importance of the viewer as the centrepiece matrix that resonates with and interprets what he/she sees, hears and thinks.

That being said, if you're expecting a Metroidvania or a hectic platformer, you might as well turn away immediately. Gris is a serene experience that will tickle your imagination, challenge your thinking and feast your senses, while seemingly not even trying, not throw you into a cinema of bewilderment.

Devolver Digital Gris
Gris

Gris starts off her story in the hands of a stone statue of a woman. Her attempts to sing end in a choke, followed by the crumbling of the statue, which sends her plummeting to the ground, all the while letting players wonder what's the smallest they've ever felt.  

Her, or should we now say your, journey begins in a monochromatic, drab world, filled with derelict ruins, where she moves slowly at first, picking up speed after stumbling to her knees.

Nomada Studio's show-don't-tell approach is evident from the get-go and we only wish more developers thought this way.

Devolver Digital Gris
Gris

It doesn't take long for the world of Gris to come alive though, awash with swathes of crimson red that's bound to put a smile on your face. Colour changes are a recurring theme in Gris and Nomada's handling of colour is nothing short of masterful.

Everything that Gris does, it does subtly, with plenty of room for players to reflect, contemplate or evoke.

My entire time with the game reminded me of that phrase attributed to a bunch of musicians from Claude Debussy to Miles Davis - music is not in the notes, but in the space between them.

Devolver Digital Gris
Gris

When it comes to graphics, Nomada's work is second to none. The entire game, every frame of it has been hand painted and the resulting organic textures of watercolours lend Gris a familiar, cosy feel.

Its art style is simply gorgeous, ranging from childish doodles to some impressive drawings, yet never breaking character, i.e. the general feel of the game.

Coupled with exquisite camera work, which makes almost every moment worthy of being framed, Gris would make any art critic at least think twice before ranting on how games can't be art. Gris is art. There, I said it.

Devolver Digital Gris
Gris

If that earlier saying was true for graphics, then it's doubly true for audio, as you'd swear Berlinist were simply transcribing what they've heard on-screen into notes.

The minimalist score is cleverly layered and textured so as to match Gris to the beat.

Even the sound of the protagonist's shoes is subtle and strangely soothing. Audio too goes from an atmospheric tool to means of progression, yet another mastery in a deceptively simple game that is Gris.

Devolver Digital Gris
Gris

If you've read about Gris, you probably know by now that this platformer has no enemies. You'd think that would leave little incentive to progress but it's quite the contrary.

I was strangely relieved finding out that all the critters are non-lethal, as my paranoid jumping left me lamenting the lack of time to enjoy the view, which then made me chuckle. 

Devolver Digital Gris
Gris

Players will be facing a series of puzzles, which increase in difficulty as they progress through the game.

Gorgeous views make easier ones a joy but even the most difficult of puzzles never seem frustrating - Gris can do this. We know she can.

Devolver Digital Gris
Gris

The world of Gris is an evolving one and the empty expanses are soon replaced with lush forests, dark caves, towering buildings and more. The changes are not merely aesthetic either, as the levels grow in complexity ever so subtly. 

In fact, some of Gris's later levels are incredibly clever and show some real inventiveness by Nomada studio.

The game simply keeps growing, even when you think it can't, which could just as easily be about Gris's handling of trauma as about level design. Mastery, once more.

Devolver Digital Gris
Gris

Gris eventually learns to use her dress like a tool, turning it into a makeshift weight that comes in handy in solving some puzzles, or escaping harsh crimson winds.

Once she rediscovers her voice, you are rewarded with creative means to expand the playing area by singing flowers to bloom, which is infinitely more satisfying than I could convey in words.

In terms of pure playing time, Gris will take up anywhere from 3-5 hours. This is likely to lean towards 5 hours or perhaps even a bit more if you choose to go for all the secrets, achievements and whatnot.

Devolver Digital Gris
Gris

Conclusion / Verdict

I'm not sure many devs would've chosen a platformer to convey an emotional message. Heck, it even sounds like a bad idea on paper but Nomada Studio have proven that passion and care know no limits.

The team have created a bona fide piece of art, that holds together beautifully and means something much more than a game, while still ensuring that it's a fun one. With the technical implementation virtually airtight, we've no choice but to bestow it with the highest honours.

Gris not only does what it sets out to do, by now it echoes in as many personal stories as it had playthroughs, because games like these don't leave you intact. But what is the exact story, I hear you ask? Well, how about you tell me?

Gris, artistic platformer by Nomada Studio and Devolver Digital

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