I wanted to start out this review with a meaningful quote from a video game but I decided that GRIS doesn’t need that. This game speaks for itself in more ways than anything else ever could.
Before I get into my GRIS review, I want to say that the game is an essential experience for every gamer out there. I don’t care what your preferences are or what type of games you don’t like, you need to play this game. You may not even end up enjoying it but at least you would have tried it.
There are very few games that transcend the medium. GRIS by Nomada Studio is one of those games that refuses to be defined. It’s an experience like few I’ve come across in any medium. As a side note, it’s hard to believe that Devolver Digital published this game; it’s so unlike their other releases, but I’m definitely not complaining!
Narrative Without a Narrator
GRIS doesn’t use any dialogue throughout the four-or-so-hour-long adventure. There are several cues communicated through text, but they’re more about how to play the game and not actually about the narrative itself. I’ll try to stay away from saying too much of this game’s story because it begs to be experienced fresh.
You are an unnamed woman, traveling through an abstract world, bringing back color to everything and everyone. GRIS is like poetry in video game form, asking for interpretation instead of spitting out answers in your face. I went through a lot of emotions while playing this game, and even shed some tears towards the end of it. Powerful stuff.
GRIS Is More Than a Platformer
Let’s get this out of the way: GRIS wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Journey, a game that first launched on PlayStation 3 several years ago. It’s easy to dismiss GRIS as a 2D-Journey ripoff after playing for just a few minutes, but I would encourage you to separate the two in your mind. Journey is a precursor — an inspiration — but very much a whole other game. GRIS is its own experience, and you’ll find this to be true the longer you play.
Some people will define this game by its difficulty or the complexity of its level design. GRIS uses platforming and puzzles to tell its story more than it uses them to challenge the player. If you’re looking for a challenge, reset your expectations for this game. Everything in GRIS is used to create an environment for a self-contained experience. It’s not about gathering collectibles or unlocking rewards. This game has a message and it’s your job to discover what that means for you.
GRIS is essentially a platformer if you boil down the gameplay. When you first start the game, all you can really do is walk and jump. As you travel through the game’s world, you’ll unlock more abilities that will help you reach new areas. They’re not revolutionary ideas from a gameplay standpoint, but they’re enough to keep you interested and they work.
You can’t die in GRIS, but that isn’t really an issue. As I keep stating, this game is more than just gameplay and difficulty. This game is telling a story of emotion, trying to move you in a way other games don’t. What you take away from this game is mainly up to you, so I won’t spoil the narrative, even if it isn’t a traditional one.
GRIS’ Watercolor World
Almost every part of this game is hand drawn and I just can’t get over it. The use of color in GRIS is some of the best I’ve seen in a video game, or really, any other medium. Everything is so fluid and looks like an animated watercolor painting. The way the character turns to face the other direction or jumps just feels so smooth and looks pretty.
The whole world of GRIS is unique and designed from the ground up. There are traces of structures like those we have on our Earth but it’s a different take on them. As you bring back color, other parts of the world start to come into focus, expanding what’s available to you. My jaw dropped several times throughout the game as I saw this happen, along with the stunningly beautiful results. There are times I would just stop and stare at the art for a bit before moving on. There are some really abstract set pieces that will definitely get your attention.
New and Classic Sounds
The soundtrack for GRIS is one of my favorites of 2018; it finished the year out strongly. Berlinist has put together a classic, yet modern masterpiece with strings, synths, and soothing vocals. The music is haunting at times, then changes and communicates an impending sense of doom, and even accelerates during suspenseful action sequences.
The GRIS soundtrack is written to follow the game closely, accentuating key moments during the story. There is a particular threat that follows you where the music pounds as you try to escape. The moments of action and serenity are perfectly paced, giving the player breaks when they need them. The sound effects are used to further enhance this and match the animation style quite nicely.
GRIS doesn’t necessarily try anything groundbreaking with its gameplay or art style. What it succeeds so well in doing is taking established ideas and using them to prod at you emotionally. This game awakens something deep, maybe even something spiritual, that you didn’t know you had locked away. Relegating GRIS to the genre of hand-drawn platformer robs the game of its spirit. It’s so much more than that and it deserves to be experienced.
If you finish GRIS and feel nothing, I believe you walked into it with the wrong expectations. Go into GRIS looking for an experience, not a simple platforming game. Even if you don’t end up a huge fan, at least you experienced this beautiful work of art.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of GRIS. All screenshots were taken in-game by the author of this review.
GRIS has to be one of my favorite games in the last few years and I honestly can’t find any flaws in this perfectly-made game. I look forward to Nomada Studio's next release, whenever that may be.
Word player, note manipulator, and logic breaker. My favorite game is The Last of Us. I’ll argue with you about it all day. Try me. “To the edge of the universe and back, endure and survive…”