New games — new franchises to be more precise — rarely catch my attention right away. I am admittedly very slow to try new things. Usually when a new game comes out, and this is especially true for indie titles, I hear a lot of buzz about them, see YouTubers hype them up with one-off let’s plays, and am inundated with comments from friends about how I should try them. I eventually get around to it, but I don’t jump in right away. I don’t know why, but I tend to be leery of games I don’t have previous knowledge of, and I typically need to wait for something subtle about them to catch my attention.
That was not the case with Gris. The moment I saw its announcement trailer, I knew I had to play this game.
Gris is a puzzle platformer where you play as the titular character Gris, a young lady with a personal objective, a variety of abilities, and a mysterious past. The game begins as Gris tries and fails to sing to a stone colossus, only to have it crumble to pieces. Gris, who has also now lost her voice, must explore and attempt to restore the what is now the colorless and nearly lifeless world she finds herself in. Not much is explained about why things are the way they are, but after the first few minutes, and after seeing the downtrodden Gris try her best to keep moving forward, I very much so was invested in seeing her reclaim her happiness.
By this point in the game, by which I mean the very beginning, the most impressive aspect Gris is its art. This game is incredibly beautiful. Even when it begins in a world of all black and white, the hand-drawn visuals, which appear to be a mix of pencil and watercolors, are just mesmerizing. All animations, particularly those of Gris herself, are fluid and graceful. Backgrounds and foregrounds add just the right amount of detail when appropriate and clues when needed. The world is in ruins, but the mix of visuals and atmospheric audio creates a sense of serenity.
Cutscenes also take full advantage of the art style. The camera will pan in and out in smooth transitions at key moments, such as when Gris enters a new location, encounters an obstacle, or completes an objective. Throughout the adventure Gris is able to restore color to the world, and, each time she does so, a gorgeous cutscene would play with the camera panning out to show as much of the area as the color bursts back into existence, with all hues of whatever color Gris has currently reclaimed.
Music and environmental sounds play in harmony with the visuals. They complement them perfectly, adding weight to each emotional, puzzling, or tense moment Gris encounters. The tracks shift from subtle to engaging at all the right times and let the player know when they are coming into a new area, are faced with a new challenge, have discovered a new goal, or are in danger.
My first concern when I started playing Gris was the same concern I have whenever I start any new game: How are the controls? Gris put my mind at ease very quickly. Quick and responsive, the controls and movements allowed me to direct Gris to exactly where I wanted to go. If at any time I missed a jump or fell off a platform, I knew it was my fault. Even controlling her while in a unique setting — such as the water levels, which are historically hit-or-miss in video games — was fluid, fast and accurate. I felt the speed at which Gris walked and ran could have been a little faster, but, aside from the small gipe, it was a well-designed experience.
As stated earlier, Gris is a puzzle-platformer and very intricate one at that. The core gameplay experience is centered around solving the challenges of each level. Puzzles are subtly weaved throughout each level and connect and progress onto the next obstacle in a seamless manner.
What is truly impressive is how well the puzzles were implemented into the game’s environments. The game’s mysterious, seemingly ruined landscapes hide puzzle elements in a way that made me feel like I was more interacting with the world rather than solving a riddle.
While I wouldn’t say most of the puzzles were truly challenging, I found myself fascinated by them due to how impressively creative they were. I really do not want to give anything away, but the best comparison I can make is to say many of the puzzles were like those seen in Legend of Zelda games in terms of how Link must find quick and creative solutions for obstacles or perhaps those in Super Mario Galaxy where level layouts will warp and change in significant ways as Mario makes his way through a stage.
There are five main regions in Gris, with each region being home to three sections or levels, whichever you would like to call them. I didn’t realize this until I finished the game and learned I could revisit each level. I knew when the transition to new, major locations happened, but my trek through each one never felt segmented. Each phase felt like a natural progression, which was nice. It made immersion much more achievable.
Power-ups, which Gris acquires throughout her adventure, do not feel out of place like. In similar games upgrades often feel like powerful weapons meant to bend an environment to your will. In Gris, the added moves, such as Gris being able to turn herself into a block in order to perform a ground-shaking action, appear to be skills that Gris reclaimed. They almost feel like the skills she uses just to survive in her world. Sure, you use the block power-up to break through cracks in the floors found in ruined structures, but you can also use it to shake fruit from a tree in order to feed a woodland creature or to add weight to yourself to endure repeated strong winds. These upgrades are multi-purpose tools to make Gris’s journey and life easier.
There’s a lot to love about Gris, which is actually where my one of my two main issues with the game lie: By the end I wanted more to love. Gris is a lot of fun, but my first run through every level only lasted a few hours. There are secrets to find within each level, but that does not add any considerable amount to the playtime. It’s a bit of a shame, but it does leave me wanting more, so with any luck, a sequel or spiritual successor will happen someday.
My second gripe is minor, but those who play a lot of platformers will understand the frustration of not always knowing what is the floor and what is not. It did not happen often, but at certain times it was not completely obvious where Gris could tread, where the walls where, or which objects were in the foreground or background. Usually, objects in Gris are solid or more transparent, to aid in figuring out where to go, but sometimes a mix of subdued color schemes and a very far panned-out camera forced me to rely on trial and error.
Gris arrived late in 2018 and quickly became one of my favorite games of the year. Creative, intriguing, entertaining, and beautiful, Gris is definitely worth a trip to the eShop to download.