Video games are art. I believe that’s a statement that I can make without getting too much hate. From the music to the art style to the stories and worlds that video games let me experience, there are plenty of things that give truth to this statement and it’s partly why I love video games so much. You get to experience someone else’s story, feelings and solution. You get to live through it all with your own eyes and make of it what you want. Hence, video games are also a great medium to bring mental health topics, for instance, to a broader audience and let them understand a bit better what it feels like to be depressed or anxious. Today’s review is about GRIS, a puzzle platformer that tells a story of grief, sorrow and depression.
Developer: Nomada Studio Publisher: Devolver Digital Genre: Atmospheric, Indie, 2D, Puzzle, Platformer Release Date: December 13th, 2018 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC, Android, iOS, Switch, PS4 Copy was purchased.
Enter a beautiful and artsy world free of danger and explore it to bring life back into your faded reality. GRIS lets you step into a young girl’s shoes while she’s got to deal with a painful experience, leaving her lost and voiceless. Solve mild puzzles and platforming sections to unlock new abilities and find new ways to traverse the world!
Initially, I didn’t know what to think of GRIS. I’ve got to be honest: I had no clue what it’s about and decided to just go with the flow instead of brooding over the potential meaning of the beginning of this story. And I feel like that was a good choice as this sense of drifting through a colourful world made my experience a lot better. Eventually, I took a hint or was able to make a few guesses as to what the story is about but I’m not super sure about it, which is another great thing about GRIS. The story is described as the story of a “hopeful young girl being lost in her own world, dealing with a painful experience in her life” by the developers. The game itself features no text (apart from some button prompts) and you can make it of it what you want. It’s a truly serene experience that leaves a lot to your imagination, which I personally really enjoy. It was satisfying to come to my own conclusion at the end of it as to what GRIS is about. I think it’s about depression, someone else had a different idea in my chat, but in the end, there is no “right” or “wrong”. It’s a rather personal thing, I guess.
Meanwhile, the core gameplay loop consists of you visiting different “temples” or places ranging from a lush forest to a vast desert, all home to different creatures and a bunch of “stars” to collect. These stars allow you to gain access to bridges and new abilities. To get the stars, you solve puzzles and platforming segments that even I was able to finish (and I suck at platformers)… And while some puzzles may look similar to other games’ puzzles, there were a lot of unique mechanics in GRIS that felt truly different and like nothing I’ve seen before, which was nice.
The game is non-violent and evocative, meaning that there is no death or danger. There is a dark figure that approaches you from time to time and makes it hard for you to move on but in the end, players will most likely not experience any frustration when it comes to chasing segments or whatever. It’s rather relaxing, actually, as the wonderful music and the beautiful art perplex you and grab your attention from the get-go, not letting you leave until you reach the end of the game after about three to four hours.
The game is short but satisfying. The story isn’t told but experienced. The art and music are amazing, coming relatively close to Journey and ABZÛ, in my opinion. All in all, GRIS is a beautiful game and I’m glad that I finally played it but there’re still a few things that I’d have to criticise.
For starters, GRIS very much is about exploration but it also isn’t in a way. You sometimes want to explore the side paths but spot something that could be a secret… but what I’m missing here is the direction aka something that points you to the main area. I felt annoyed at times by the fact that I would go ahead through the main path already “where I’m supposed to go”, even though there was another path to explore. Sure, you can replay the game and explore that again, but I would have preferred it if it was more clear where you’re supposed to go. That way you’d not only gain some sense of direction… but it would also let you explore the side paths first before you continue the game’s story. Meanwhile, this issue is also very much present in the temples you find between areas. At times, I would follow the same few dead ends three or four times because I had no clue as to how I’m supposed to continue the game. Eventually, I’d find it but it was still quite annoying. At last, I had an issue with figuring out which walls I can bump into and which ones not… or which surfaces I could stand/jump on and which ones I could not. I feel like the art is beautiful and everything but they could have done better with that bit in their level design.
Apart from that, though, I truly did enjoy GRIS and the overall experience, which is why I’m hence highly recommending this nice but short little game.