Gris follows its titular character restoring colour to the fairy book world in this easygoing, but ultimately effecting, 2D puzzle/platformer. Even though Gris might be on the easier side, gameplay-wise, the game’s arresting aesthetics are unrivalled and more than capable of carrying this unique gem over the course of 4-5 hours of playtime.
It goes without saying that Gris is an audio-visual feast. It’s not exaggeration to say that Gris genuinely looks like a moving painting and you can quite literally screenshot any frame of the game to hang it up on a wall. Watercolour paint that mixes with neat ink outlines left me in awe on several occasions, especially at times when the game’s camera pulls out and gives you a look at the vibrant, grandiose world that artist and director Conrad Roset has created. It’s utterly engrossing and the game does a very good job of taking the player through various different parts of the geography from hostile, red deserts to serene, dreamy water temples. Part of the game’s enchanting charm comes from its Ghibli-like animations. Every moving creature and object has an endearing, naturalistic quality to it. It’s inexplicably cute and immensely satisfying to just watch things move and change and flow. The attention to detail in the background is just as impressive as the art in the foreground, giving the world a much bigger sense of scale. It isn’t always clear that the two are separate however; there were quite a few moments where I’d try to jump onto an object I thought was on the foreground, only to fall and realise it was a background decoration. But these minor annoyances were few and far between. It’s quite remarkable that Roset makes this strong of an impression and creates a unique world with such a minimalistic art style. Theres a lot of empty space as Gris restores colour to the world and many of the world’s designs are reduced to simple shapes like squares or triangles, but this keeps the game intimate and avoids ever becoming overwhelming, while also creating an incredibly unique looking world.
Gris’s soundtrack is equally as beautiful, epic and intimate as the game’s artwork. The music soars and crescendos as the camera pulls back to reveal another extravagant sight. But the music is also the perfect mood setter for the calmer, more melancholic moments in the game. Soft ambient sounds, violins and female vocals sprinkle the rest of the game, only adding to the already soothing tone of the game. The entire soundtrack compliments the rest of the game immeasurably to a point that I’m not sure if Gris would still have the same larger than life, ethereal quality without this OST.
Gris’s spellbinding world unravels as the protagonist deals with feelings of grief at the loss of her mother. Heartbroken and empty, this tragedy is the catalyst that makes Gris go on a journey of recovery, hence why she’s restoring colour to her world. Each new section of the game represents a different phase of grief for Gris. Bringing red back into the world represents the anger: everything from the art, the instrumentals and the gameplay feel significantly more hostile. The same mood shift and phase is symbolised in every new section of the game when Gris recovers a different colour. For such a sad idea, Gris never actually feels overwhelmingly tragic. For the most part, it stays away from the ugliness that comes with grief and instead goes for a wordless bittersweet mood rather than an in depth look at tragedy. In this sense, Gris acts as a cathartic experience, not a downer. It’s a highly abstract game that leaves a lot of its story to symbolism and interpretation, but a few brilliantly animated cutscenes are enough for just about anyone to get a broad sense of what the game is about, while leaving the door open for more interpretive discussion.
There’s little to no threat in Gris. There aren’t any enemies to kill Gris or a possibility for her to fall to her death. This leads to a relatively chilled out, soothing gameplay experience and works for the majority of the game, although there is a giant bird that reoccurs to harass Gris now and then, it’s not possible to die running from it. Gris’s puzzle and platforming sections don’t up the difficulty either. They consist of fairly straight forward timing based jumps and glides along with a few fun and gimmicky puzzles. Anyone that’s familiar with other platformers won’t be surprised with any of the levels Gris presents: there’s a level where platforms appear when Gris jumps; an underwater level; and a gravity bending stage. There are a few unique gimmicks that Gris throws in now and then, but Gris never sticks with one of its different mechanics for too long. In hindsight this works to its advantage; for a low-stakes game such as this, holding onto one style of gameplay for too long would get dull, fast. Gris’s abilities are also quite standard platformer selections including a ground pound, a gliding ability and a double jump. There are some cleverly hidden collectibles that throw a wrench in Gris’s difficulty which take some trial and error. They’re relatively fun to find since most of the game’s levels are pretty linear. If there’s one big problem with the difficulty, it’s that the lack of urgency can hurt the fun of the game if you’re playing the game in one long sitting.
Indisputably, one of the most beautiful games of all time. Aesthetically engrossing in every aspect, from its animations, world design, vibrant soundtrack and a feast of colours. Gris masterfully immerses you into its bittersweet, fairytale story of loss and grief that unfurls in one of the most relaxing games I’ve ever played. While its lack of meaningful challenge may hurt the games replay value, Gris will remain a masterclass in how to establish a mood in a video game for years to come.
You can probably find Kaan hibernating until the next episode of Game of Thrones.