I’m a little late to this party but the 300,000 sales and rave reviews GRIS has already received speaks to its quality. Knowing this was a short game, I tackled it in one sitting and it gripped me throughout.
This isn’t a Metroidvania; there’s no combat and little by way of backtracking for example, but you do acquire new abilities as you move forward, opening pathways in a linear fashion, the first of which is straight out of the Kirby handbook. Basically, your dress shifts into a block form, slamming the ground below. However, while in this form, you can still walk, gifting Gris with the Solid-Snake-cardboard-box-manoeuvre. Nice.
White orb-entities, when discovered, float behind you, following a star-like constellation pattern. The orbs also serve a purpose; effectively creating physical bridges in set places to allow you to progress to the next section. Your time is mostly spent seeking these orbs (or, possible pieces of memory), allowing Gris to gradually rebuild the world around her.
Parts of the abstract architecture come alive as you pass, forming circular arches, in one part merely as a visual flex, the next to form a part of a clockwork mechanism that expands to open an otherwise inaccessible route. A metal structure will lean as you reach its end, only to carefully merge into the nearby building, as you use your shape-shifting dress to weigh it down, visually harmonising objects to grant access to more of both the metal structure and the now-connected building. All of this happens effortlessly.
The core mechanics are as minimalist as the UI, amounting to a jump button and directional movement with the aforementioned dress-block mechanic and a couple of other abilities that, while I won’t spoil them, aren’t really the hook; they’re more augments.
GRIS opens with a bold grayscale look with sparse use of colour. Colours are added to world sequentially through progression, slowly bleeding into life. Every beautiful, painterly frame of flowing animation accentuates the theme. Broken pottery and stonework, blending into vines and rocks give the impression of a dream-like foregone time. To say too much more could unravel too much of GRIS’s premise.
Just know the little polished touches keep GRIS among the cleanest indie titles available on Switch; everything works exactly as intended, be that the expressive animation when you reach the ground after falling great distances as Gris spins her dress gracefully before landing, or even the common, minimalist design choices such as letterboxing for some set pieces that are masterfully dealt with, blending in and out so seamlessly that you’ll hardly notice, or the way the camera smoothly glides downwards as Gris reaches just the right point of the ledge, giving you enough of a view to keep your curiously moving along. GRIS is littered with these subtle flourishes.
In what is an otherwise empty, lonely world, GRIS convinces you to let go of reality and be drawn into its mysterious narrative. Small birds and insect-like creatures populate the various areas of GRIS and the pitter-patter and fluttering sounds when placed in a serene, heavily forested area, for example, offer a relaxing form of escapism.
There’s perfection in use of dynamic range within the musical score. Gentle volume swells of string instruments guide you through the minimalist environments, allowing you to simply let your mind rest and your senses take over. The aural experience reminds me of the clever use of developing sounds which match the progression and mood in Celeste.
Early on there are intermittent blasts of wind which force you back, and as uneventful as this sounds, the animation as you struggle against nature’s force combined with the subtle blend of the calm musical tones, swiftly but gracefully transitioning to a high tempo, evokes a powerful moment of genuine awe, right before throwing you back to the soothing piano-driven peace. And this was just a gust of wind.
This is a puzzle-platformer that’s light on the puzzles and light on the platforming. In exchange, what you get is a zen-like, artistic, euphoric, sensual journey that will stay will you. Though most of the actual puzzle mechanics have been seen elsewhere, GRIS has a wonderfully subtle way of gently pushing you along though clever implementation of ever-shifting environments.
Overall Score: 9/10
It will likely be a be a few years before I revisit GRIS. Partially because this is a short experience and partially because it isn’t the sort of game that lends itself to multiple playthroughs. However, the main reason is, I want to forget all about it so I can be as awe-struck when I play it again.
Format: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC
Price: £14.49 (UK eShop)
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Nomada Studio
Age Rating: PEGI 7
Release Date: 13/12/2018 (UK eShop)
Review copy provided by publisher