A few days ago, I reviewed the Nintendo Switch version of Abzu, a 505 Games release that defies the convention of typical game rules. It’s based more around exploring vivid underwater worlds instead of reaching an “end game,” so to speak. It’s a refreshing take on game design and a must for those looking for a unique game on Nintendo’s platform. So it’s kind of funny, then, that I run into a game based on a similar “journey, not destination” ruleset, even though its design is entirely different- and its recommendation is almost as strong as that game’s.
GRIS is the work of Nomada Studio, a short but sweet adventure that’s more than just a routine travel tale. The significance is more about the journey that you’re taking, and how the world lights up around you as you go around. The minute you bring blue into the picture, you’re likely to feel the best kind of euphoria- one a typical game doesn’t usually deliver. GRIS is the sort of experience that keeps grip on you as it plays out, even though it ends too soon.
Very little about the story is revealed at first. You play a young girl who finds herself trying to get over a personal trauma of some sort. She begins by resting on a stone hand, but it inexplicably crumbles apart, forcing her to explore this world and complete tasks to get to the next area. It’s a classic platformer in every sense of the world, even though it’s based more around locating items than “defeating” something.
What makes GRIS stand out is how impeccably its design makes this world feel more complete. The use of colors and stage structure are astounding and pop to life both on bigger displays and on the portable Switch screen. Not once did I get bored looking around at what I saw, or finding stars that would form the next bridge to take me into the next area.
There isn’t an overwhelming amount of challenge either. That’s not to say the game is a cakewalk, but it’s near impossible to die. Even during the boss battles, you’ll be more in awe figuring out how to resolve the conflict, rather than frustrated by someone pounding you into nothingness. Nomada really made it a point for players to feel the impact of GRIS, rather than taking a heavy toll.
The gameplay is an interesting take on the usual platformer. At first, the young girl doesn’t have too many abilities on hand. However, over the course of your trip, she picks up new ones that help her along. And there’s a cute little moment where an animal joins you along the way, mimicking your moves and helping you solve a certain puzzle or two. This will likely make a few folks smile.
While the replay value for this sort of game is limited (with its multi-hour length drawing to a close sooner than expected), GRIS feels like something you could go through again, if only to catch whatever sights you missed the first time around.
The game benefits tremendously from an art style, with a little help from a truly devoted art team that really creates a painting brought to life here. The gorgeous animation in GRIS truly pops off the screen, and, combined with the colorful levels, turns it into a work of living art. This even manages to be even more striking than Hollow Knight- and as you can tell from my review, that game was no slouch when it came to visuals.
And wow, the music. Put together by Berlinist, a musical group based out of Barcelona, each theme that plays throughout GRIS is boldly brought to life, fitting the design comfortably. It’s an absolute must if you’re wearing headphones, though it sounds just fine playing on a television as well. That, combined with the small but well-produced sound effects, make this more of an experience than just a typical soundtrack set to a game.
There are those of you that would probably balk at the idea of paying $15 or so for a game that only lasts a little while, compared to, say, something like the amazing Dead Cells. But GRIS is built more as a game that’s about the moment and not entirely the long-term. Its excursion is a true thing of elegance, one that will transfix you no matter how you’re playing.
The gameplay is simple enough to grasp, but compelling as your game continues onward with its new abilities and enthralling boss battles. And that, combined with the masterly produced audio, makes it a rich experience to soak in.
While GRIS may be short, it’s definitely sweet, and leaves you with a feeling of completion and worth. And it leaves me wondering just what kind of point Nomada Studio will make with its next game. I hope it’s just as involving as GRIS is, but in its own special way.0comments
WWG’s Score: 4 out of 5.
(Disclaimer: A review code was provided by the publisher.)