2018 has been a stellar year for indie games on the Switch. Standouts like Celeste and The Messenger have cemented Nintendo’s hybrid console as the go-to system for indies. Gris is the cherry on top to this fantastic year or ‘Nindies’, and stands on even footing with some of the best indie titles of this year.
Gris is the first game by Barcelona-based Nomada Studio. In this game you lead the protagonist through puzzles and platforming in an ever-evolving world. This visually beautiful experience is something to behold. I haven’t seen anything as stunning as Gris since I played Okami eight years ago. However, looks aren’t everything.
Gris has ridiculously creative and intuitive platforming. Like any platformer you’re given simple challenges to overcome at the beginning. Then just as you’re about to feel discouraged by an insurmountable obstacle, a lifeline is cast in your direction.
The block transformation and double jump are just two of the crucial pieces of the puzzles you must solve to progress in Gris. Unlike many other platformers, this game won’t give you a power-up that helps you solve a puzzle in the immediate area and then neglect it the rest of the game. Every ability you earn ends up being used in multiple ways throughout subsequent levels.
Minimalist to a Fault
Even though I’m blown away by the creativity of Gris’ puzzles, the game is a far too easy. The puzzles are incredibly creative, but they don’t always offer the challenge I’ve come to expect from platformers. Another tradition that Gris kicks to the curb is the existence of enemies that can damage you. There are dangerous birds and eels, but they’re just frauds. They are certainly intimidating but pose no real threat. The final straw is that you can’t die in this game. Or at least that was my line of thinking until I slept on it and let the game sink in. I’ll get back to that though.
Where Aesthetic Beauty Abounds…
Despite the bad taste left in my mouth by the ridiculously easy platforming, this game is too beautiful to dislike. I mentioned Okami earlier — which I believe to be the most beautiful game of all time — as a frame of reference. I have no hesitation to mention Gris in the same breath.
Something as simple as the girl’s dress blowing in the wind is a feat of love and attention to detail. The animation is so smooth and natural that you almost don’t even notice it.
Color plays the most important aesthetic role in Gris. The world around you first appears with simple monochromatic colors — save for the protagonist’s hair. As you progress through the game you unlock different colors. These colors are then added to the surrounding environment. The scenes with the world around you becoming populated by bold splashes of watercolor elicits a highly emotional response. Reviewing aesthetics is almost akin to judging a book by its cover. However, there was something about the appearance of Gris that seemed much deeper.
…A Heart-Breaking Story of Hope is Found
The depth of Gris is found in its story. This young girl is ravaged by depression to the point where you need to force her to start moving to even start the game.
As you unlock more colors you reveal more of the world around you and you get to see all the pretty environments. It all looks wonderful, but those colors mean so much more than making the game look good. They are a physical representation of Gris growing and maturing emotionally. She starts out in her cold, colorless world. Then, as she grows, she finds friends that help make her life easier. Discovering her singing voice helps Gris discover her purpose and overcome despair.
What hit me the hardest came to me a few days after I finished Gris. At first, I thought it was an awful design choice that you couldn’t die in a platformer. So, I slept on it for a few nights. Then one day it finally hit me. I can’t die because death isn’t a solution to the puzzle of life. Living and figuring out a way to effectively cope, overcome depression is the answer.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Gris was provided by Tinsley-PR.