The fact that the most famous game awards (literally called The Game Awards, duh) get called “the Oscars of videogames” really bothers me. There’s many reasons for that, such as the focus on advertising instead of the actual awards, but probably the main one is that they are celebrated in December. This means that every year a few titles aren’t even considered to win in any of the categories in which they would at least deserve a nomination, and even if the rules state that those late games get the chance to compete in the following year, they all get forgotten in the end. This happened with The Last Guardian a couple of years ago, for example. And I’m afraid the same will happen to GRIS this year, which is one of the best games released during the last twelve months.
R E D
Breathtaking. That’s the first thing I thought when I saw the opening sequence unfold before my eyes the first time I opened GRIS. The whole screen constantly looks like a huge, rich watercolour painting. Every element is beautifully drawn and animated, from platforms, to living creatures, to weather conditions. The best part is that all of those elements work together in unison, creating situations that made me take a moment to appreciate the magnificent landscape shown on-screen. Made me stop and stare, something that lots of games struggle to achieve despite more powerful game engines and a more than evident graphical prowess. In addition, the game world evolves as players add new colours to the environment, and designs get more intricate as layers are stacked.
The protagonist character has an amazing design too, and the way she walks and jumps flows greatly. Her animations are organic and smooth, and her interaction with the environment feels natural. Another feature that really caught my attention is architecture. I’m no expert in this field, and as a consequence, I rarely notice whether it’s good or bad in games. Nomada Studio’s title, however, has a special look when it comes to buildings and statues, especially when both of them merge into single, unique structures.
G R E E N
Berlinist provides the music to GRIS. The wide variety of melodies crafted for the game result in an experience in which visuals and music blend together perfectly. There isn’t a single situation in the game not accompanied by a tune that fits just right. While the piano is clearly the protagonist in the soundtrack, my personal favourite tracks involve many more than that, with a clever use of organ and voices to represent a difficult challenge. The more peaceful string-packed pieces are also beautiful and soothing, and the game’s final tracks feel climatic, maybe even cathartic, albeit their rather simple nature.
The whole album is amazing to listen to. The last few days I’ve ditched my usual albums and playlists and listened to the soundtrack for hours. Truly evoking. Like, seriously, find the track named “Gris, pt 2” and be amazed.
B L U E
Puzzles and platforms fill the world of GRIS. As a consequence, most game mechanics feel familiar and easy to learn. In addition to moving, there’s just three other actions the player can do, jumping, becoming heavy and singing. This may seem like a very simple set of skills for a game, but the beauty lies in how they transform to adapt different situations, as well as how players can combine them to solve the puzzles. For instance, becoming heavy while still in the air right after jumping, makes the protagonist stomp the ground, gaining the ability to break fragile surfaces.
Single mechanics can be combined too, with the perfect example being the jump itself. While in the air, pushing the jump button gives you an additional boost as well as the ability to glide while falling. If surrounded by birds, holding the button launches you upwards. While swimming, you can boost forward by pushing that same button, and if you reach the surface, you keep that momentum in your way up. These simple actions combine at times: you’re swimming, you boost to get out of the water by jumping, in the air some birds surround you so you hold the button again to be launched into the air, and then use the second jump and the gliding with a third press of the button to reach your objective. The different ways in which a single button can make you traverse is nothing short of excellent.
Collecting lights is the main objective in the game, which, combined together, form constellations, new platforms that the protagonist can use to access areas that weren’t within reach previously. It is a simple way to control progression, but a rather effective one, too. Reminiscent of old-school games, GRIS plays with boundaries carefully, making players prove their understanding of the game before letting them advance.
The puzzles are imaginatively crafted to be accessible for anyone, so they aren’t particularly challenging, but they do offer a nice eureka moment, indeed. Moreover, a few collectibles can be found in the game’s world, having to solve some optional, more complex puzzles to get them. This is a nice way to give every player the kind of experience they’re looking for, and it doesn’t feel overwhelming at all.
A great example of how accessible GRIS is can be found in the lack of failure state. Our character can’t die, the game will never be interrupted by a message letting players know they have failed to complete their goals. The enemies found will not try to destroy us, but to make our path more difficult, having to find creative ways to circumvent their very presence. Those moments are some of the most enjoyable beats, and they all lead to an incredibly satisfying conclusion.
Y E L L O W
It’s no easy task to avoid getting emotional while playing GRIS. Yet it feels very difficult to explain why, because while the themes the game plays with can be understood with ease, the meaning behind those ideas are open to interpretation. Art connects with every single one of us in different ways, and this title is a more than obvious example of that.
Some think the game is about a pursuit of beauty. Others believe it’s about overcoming loss and grief. Instead, the message I have found is about depression, as I picture the protagonist as someone who is seeking for their own personality, probably because she has been in an abusive relationship that has left her broken inside, as pictured by the many statues of women, all of them broken, that can be found throughout the game. Maybe it’s also about misogynist violence for that same reason. About not trying to escape depression but to overcome it instead.
I have been deeply moved by how beautifully and elegantly the game handles these topics. GRIS has something to say, and doesn’t hide it. It just presents it in a way that’s so subtle and human, that it’s completely impossible not to connect with it.
Watercolours mix. The elements we’ve already discussed combine together. Not only are they great as separate pieces, they work brilliantly together creating a piece of art that transcends in many ways. They are nothing but single strands of thread, waiting to be weaved together, forming beautiful tapestry.
Graphics have a narrative meaning through the use of watercolours and their mixtures, and the feelings that the story induces get intensified by clever uses of contrasting colours. Gameplay and music combine beautifully creating moments that are very memorable. Even more importantly, game mechanics serve a narrative purpose, putting the player in the center of the action, turning a simple videogame into a journey.
A journey full of emotions, human touch. A path towards self discovery, a healing process or a recovery after an important loss. A battle against anxiety or depression. Whatever your story is, you will find it here. Embrace it. We are alive. 10/10