Switch version tested
Review code provided
Since Gris’ announcement, I have been keen to try this game and see whether it managed to live up to the beautiful hype its trailer brought to us. Thinking a review copy of this would end up being like gold dust, I didn’t hold out much hope this soon. Thankfully I was wrong, and a couple of days ago I got my hands on what is quite simply the most gorgeous game I have played in an immensely long time.
Too many websites have purely reviewed this game as just that, a game. But Gris isn’t as straightforward as that, and therefore I find a lot of reviews to be unjust and simply shallow. Gris is a piece of art, both visually and narratively. A puzzle platformer that is portraying the grief of loss, played out across what is initially a colourless landscape. As the game progresses, and you come to terms with your loss, shades of colour are restored in beautiful watercolour sequences. With each colour, comes a different element. Whether it be wind, water, and so on. As a construct, the game is part dystopian, part expressive. None of this is really mentioned in most mainstream reviews, and it is a crime that people who are mainstream journalists can simply look over these kinds of factors and just review it like any other video game on the market. Especially when we are in a world where everything is supposedly about how it looks.
Lets for a moment look at the gameplay that Gris brings. The style of gaming is somewhere between Monument Valley and Fez, bringing together 2D platforming and perspective puzzle solving. As you travel along terrains, monuments and buildings stand in your way. Sometimes these bring fairly straightforward physics puzzles, others make the camera pull out and reveal phenomenally large rooms that can consist of anything from timing based levels, to elemental mysteries. Your reward from these puzzles are stars, which follow you to (once gathered together) form constellations which create bridges along impossible gaps allowing you to leave the area you’re currently stuck in. Reviews that have been less favourable to Gris imply that these levels become repetitive, but again this is not taking the game’s narrative and visual nature into account. As you go through grief, you naturally retread ground in your head coming to terms with events that have happened. Therefore narratively Gris is playing on this and is playing out the grief you feel across the puzzles and rooms you discover. For this reason, I find it difficult to judge the game for this as a concept.
As the game and story progress, elements begin to fill the world around you. This includes characters that begin to appear, which are some of the cutest NPC’s you’ll have encountered for some time. My favourites being one that hides underground when seen, but sneaks out to eat the apples you knock off trees, and creatures that use rocks (some big enough to contain whole rooms inside them) as Snail-like shells which you can ride in order to progress across levels. Along with elements and characters, skill sets are learnt too. Turning into a brick to crash through broken platforms, jumping and eventually double jumping, are the initial skills you come across.
I agree that Gris may not be the most difficult puzzle game around at the moment, but for me the fun with Gris is in the journey. Visually, narratively, and of course audibly (the soundtrack written for Gris by Berlinist is just as beautiful as its visuals, and even if you have no intentions of playing this game you should find the soundtrack on Spotify and please your ears) Gris delivers on its journey in large emotionally driven chunks that have made me emotively attached to a game in ways that I’ve not felt in some time.
Perhaps the one criticism I could give Gris is its one-and-done gameplay. It isn’t really a game you would choose to go back and keep replaying. I’m sure you would at some point go back and replay for its story, but unlike other puzzle games with scores and times that are there to beat, the laid back and emotionally structured nature of Gris makes no challenge to come back for. If perhaps developers in future updates added a time attack mode with leaderboards it would solve this issue.
Gris is the perfect example of gaming being more than just a literal video game, but also an art form. Its watercolour landscape, its gorgeous music, and deep storyline make for a journey that isn’t paralleled anywhere else in the industry right now. If people can appreciate this form of gaming as a deep and rich genre that makes art more interactive than ever, then we are all better off for it. As a game, it’s arguably simple and somewhat repetitive. But this is only half the story, and so can’t be judged purely on this. If the developers were to come back and add reason to make it replayable, I’d be willing to give the game a slightly higher score. However, the lack of this makes me feel the need to mark it slightly lower as a result.
If you are more bothered about level completion, collectables and addictive gameplay, this isn’t the game for you. If you are looking for something rich and meaningful, do your senses a favour and play Gris. Take in its visuals, its emotions and its soundtrack, and immerse yourself in a world that you simply will not have visited before. And knock a few apples down along the way while you’re at it, the creatures around you will adore you…