The Perfect Splash of Color.
Up until a few days ago, I hadn’t even heard of GRIS, a mellow and yet exciting puzzle platformer by Spanish developer, Nomada Studios. After hearing the title mentioned in a recent gaming podcast, I curiously checked it out on the Nintendo Switch eshop store. A cheap price here, a download there, and within minutes, I was swept away by its gorgeous visuals and haunting soundtrack. While GRIS is not a terribly long experience, clocking in at around 3 hours, it is one that is incredibly memorable, and one of the best games I’ve ever played.
As the titular character, you play as a young woman who wakes up in the crumbling palm of a statue. As she starts to sing, she suddenly loses her voice and the statue’s hand starts to break apart, causing the young mute woman to fall. When the dust has settled, she finds herself in a world without color, and a voice that has yet to return. Her journey to reclaim her voice and bring color back to the world is an emotional one, featuring an ending so perfect, I tear up each time I revisit it. GRIS is a game about loss and dealing with grief, and it is felt not only in its environments, but in its tone and musical score.
GRIS is a puzzle platformer that has you use unique abilities to progress through complex environments as you attempt to track down glowing lights that are used to create pathways that allow Gris to move on to the next area or just to navigate a large gap. As you collect these points of light, they will eventually convert to stars in the sky above, forming a constellation of the final path you will walk before your journey is done. Gris will gain special abilities such as her cloak forming into a heavy block, a double jump, and the capability of swimming at great speeds.
As you reclaim each of the colors; Red, Green, Blue, and Yellow, each will take you to an entirely new and distinct location. When you start, Red will be the first of the colors you will grant back to this world. This location comes with wild sand storms that will push Gris back as she attempts to brave them. Thankfully, you can take shelter in many of the nearby ruins to wait them out. It is also here where you will gain the ability to form her cloak into a heavy block, allowing her to not only walk through the storms, but to use the block to smash the cracked ground below her. As you enter the forest area, you’ll find small little creatures that will assist you, providing you feed them apples to appease their hunger. There are also platforms that morph as you jump, a patch of three red birds that will launch you into the sky, and an intense series of events with a giant bird made out of darkness, one intent on halting your progress and an overall fantastic encounter.
As you reclaim the color blue, it will take you to my favorite location of the journey. it is here where Gris will gain the ability to swim and you’ll navigate underwater caverns and frozen caves to track down more stars to add to your final constellation path. You will use each ability you have learned, including one that requires a chill in the air to use it as a platform. It’s also here where I felt many of the environmental puzzles were at their best. Apart from one specific area in the game, I was never at a loss at what to do. Gris isn’t a difficult game by any means, but many of its puzzles are fresh and unique and not simply pulled from other games of the genre. The puzzles here allow GRIS to have some of the best level designs I’ve ever seen in a 2D platformer.
The final location is a palace, high up in the night sky and one that has much of its environment hidden away until it is exposed by interacting with several bright lights around you. As was the case with each of the previous locations, you will use each ability to its fullest and even a new trick of running along the ceiling, all in an effort to reach the constellation path you’ve been building since the very start. It is also here where Gris will gain back the power of her voice, one that will affect the environment in very fun and positive ways.
What I really appreciate about the level design is that you are always moving forward. You may get stumped on a puzzle here and there, but anywhere you can go in the game either nets you one of the many collectibles, or pushes you in the direction of your next puzzle. While Gris may learn an ability that lends itself towards a metroidvania style of thinking, GRIS is a very linear experience that still allows a measured approach to its freedom of exploration. What allows the level design to truly shine, and this also speaks true of its puzzles, is in the way the camera pulls back to allow these areas to showcase their scale. There are more personal moments when the camera is fully zoomed in, but much of your adventure will be shown with the camera pulling back to allow you to take everything in.
From the very start of the game, right through to the end credits, GRIS commands attention from both its visuals and from its stunning musical score. Conrad Roset, the creative director for the game, has given us one of the most gorgeous interactive experiences ever created. As you can see from the various screenshots, GRIS has a watercolor effect combined with some truly remarkable animation given to not just the playable character model, but the opening and ending cutscenes that bookend the game so perfectly. Its environments are packed full of detail and use their basic color approach to create stunning works of art.
The smart use of color to tell an emotional story about grief and loss is only enhanced by the soundtrack offered to us by composer, Berlinist. The music is hauntingly sad yet hopeful and positive. Every note is played at exactly the right moment and gives us the purest emotional response to each obstacle in the young woman’s path. The final moment in the game is chilling due to its music and follows a deeply emotional moment that reminded me of Celeste, a game that has a very “Let’s finish this..” type moment as well.
Each of us play videogames for various reasons. Either we crave a strong narrative with interesting characters, or we simply want to blow stuff up. GRIS checks nearly all the boxes that I look for videogames to fulfill. It has an incredibly gorgeous world to explore, an intriguing protagonist, and a soundtrack that has become an obsession. GRIS is a game that I cannot recommend enough and while this year has been filled with a huge library of incredible games, this is a title that really deserves to be part of your collection.
GRIS was purchased by the reviewer.
All Screenshots were taken on a Nintendo Switch.