Gris-mas come early...
As I finished Gris, the mesmerising hand animated title from Spanish studio Nomada Studio, I sat back with my hands trembling and my eyes watering. As I softly laid the controller down I reflected on the hours I’d spent absorbed in this world and what it had meant to me. The themes of grief, loss, weight and much more had seeped into my brain and struck me unexpectedly, but they had struck hard. When I set out on the adventure, the first moments of watching a woman lose her voice and fall to the very bottom already set the tone for where this would take me, but never did I expect this title to so deeply connect with me and to keep me enthralled and emotionally engaged until the final, glorious seconds.
Gris is not coy with metaphors, but it doesn’t need to be either. This game is designed to be played in one long sitting, with your full attention and it will likely hit you much harder if you do this but, because of this it can sometimes feel like it plays itself. Of course this is a good or a bad thing depending on how you view games as an experience, if you are comfortable playing a game like Inside or Journey simply to enjoy the ride the game takes you on, then Gris will be for you. It is a simple platformer that while grand in scope & detail is not wanting to punish you, it wants to challenge you but also to encourage you to see it through. You can’t die in Gris and you can never truly go somewhere you are not meant to be, I highly recommend blocking out 5-6 hours in your schedule, putting your phone in the other room and playing this with the sound up on a large television. Experience this game, don’t just play it, and you are more likely to get exactly what the game wants to give you.
The game starts by putting you in the shoes of Gris, a women who has lost her voice, falling from crumbling ruins above to the ground below and moving you to piece together the colours that previously made up the world. I know how I personally interpreted this, but I also think the game is designed to be ambiguous (with barely any words spoken throughout the entire campaign) so just like a classic Radiohead song or an abstract painting, we look at this world and the clues it lays out for us to find and place our own understanding of the pieces offered to us. Certainly a game that’s premise is based around a woman losing her voice, with the first power up you gain literally being ‘weight’, this title was always meant to be a reflection of grief, mental health and emotional struggle. But it is not exclusive of people who haven’t experienced these themes, nor does it ever stray too far from being a simply beautiful and satisfying game in it’s own right.
Gris was developed by a small team and it always feels like a small and intimate game, yet while this can be true of the levels or the platforming when the amount of content is laid out for inspection, so much of the games value comes from the experience it creates. The hand drawn animation style is one of the most beautiful animated worlds I’ve ever seen, from the simple painterly aesthetic of the backgrounds to the swirling masses of ink that form to create bosses, this game not only continues to impress visually but it uses this aesthetic in an interesting and intelligent way to bring the different elements of the title together. As the style continues to develop into different animals, plants and environments it is clear just how much painstaking work has been put into every single detail. Each single piece reacts in it’s own way, moving to your disturbance or reacting musically with the world around it, making controlling your character through this world feel like moving through a dream. While platforming is rarely challenging, it does impress through clever use of simple ideas, as the game takes moves from the Super Mario rulebook of completely exhausting the amount of ways you can use limited transformations or powers. Of course the fluid movement of the character & the surrounding world also helps to sell these powers, which may have underwhelmed had they been handled differently. This is not a criticism in any way, while we can do the same things repeatedly, it’s always fantastic to see someone new attempt it and improve on the previous recipe in interesting ways.
But wrapping this wonderful present of a game up with a neat bow is the impeccable sound design, with each movement and action giving a satisfactory and beautiful audible reaction. It works to make you want to explore, you want to continue pushing forward to see the product of your actions in this magnificent setting, to see what you are capable of next and to see what you can work with the game to unleash. Soft bells chime with the collection of stars, the satisfying thud of the weight of your character reminds you of your actions and the gentle breeze always makes you feel like a living participant in Gris. This is not even speaking of the phenomenal score from Barcelona based artist Berlinist, which is a piece of art in it’s own right.
The music for this game is simply and utterly astounding, it’s indicative of the game’s demand of your attention, of it’s ability to grip you and of it’s focus on a single story in it’s deep luscious world. Urgent, elegant & inspiring, the music is constantly surging and sweeping around you in parallel to the visuals of Gris, deftly picking you up and aiming to carry you along on a breeze. With each emotional beat of the game the visuals and music work to truly enthrall the player, the small details building over time to a sensory tsunami that brought me to my knees. This game made me cry on more than one occasion, a product of my own connection to grief and loss but also the culmination of the work put into this game as a process of recovery.
Gris describes itself and the eponymous main character as “a hopeful young girl lost in her own world, dealing with a painful experience in her life.” It is an invitation to live an experience and push through it, but anyone who has suffered loss, who has laid up at night mourning heartbreak, who has felt the shame of depression or any other depth of human emotion will understand. We all understand our connection to emotion, but Gris wants us to live it. It works with every single detail of it’s world to craft an experience and push you to see it through. You want to finish Gris because of the slow unfurling of colour back to this grey world, because of your agency over this visually exquisite landscape and your ability to control it, because of the music working around and with you to craft an unforgettable experience. When I finished Gris I wasn’t just crying, I had been pushed emotionally to deal with something I didn’t known I had been ignoring, to see the beauty in feeling sad and to see that every time I fall apart there is something to be gained from finding those pieces again. It is at the front line of the argument for games as art, and while you can pick it apart for it’s failings when compared to similar video games I don’t think it was ever meant to be the best in those terms. Gris is the best thing it wants to be, it is the best version of itself despite it’s flaws and it wants us to work to be that as well. I won’t ever forget the journey it took me on.
Like the sound of the game?
If you liked the review, want to try the game out, and also want to help support our site, please feel free to check out the Steam version of the game by clicking on the image below!