Having just finished my first playthrough of GRIS, I am feeling somewhat lost. The kind of melancholy one only feels when they close the last page on a really, really good book, or watch the credits role on a game that is fantastic beyond words. Fantastic beyond words only just scrapes the surface of GRIS.
At its core GRIS is a beautiful and charming platformer with no death and no danger but, dig a little bit deeper and you discover layer upon layer of metaphors, and a phenomenal story of grief. After a short intro cutscene where our protagonist loses her voice and watches as a giant stone version of herself crumbles out from beneath her feet, we find ourselves slumped on the floor, surrounded by a void of white emptiness.
You stumble to your feet and can walk either to the left or right, attempts at using any other action inputs leave you crumpled on the floor. As you slowly progress, features start to appear, and the landscape fills out, rocks pop up and birds skirt across the sky, eventually we shake our self-down, our gait increases to a run and we’re given the ability to jump, and so our adventure begins.
Gris translates to ‘Grey’ in both Spanish and French, making it a wonderfully apt name for a game where colour is one of its overarching themes. You start off in a black and white landscape, and as you progress through the different stages of grief you ‘unlock’ a different colour that bleeds its way across the screen, washing away the bleakness and breathing life into the world. With each level you also pick up abilities to help you navigate the various platforming puzzles the game presents, these range from a double jump to a ‘heavy’ form to help you smash your way through crumbling ruins.
Music and colour are the weapons Nomada wield so brilliantly in GRIS, the scores of music blend seamlessly together as you progress. At times just the lightest of notes twinkle in the background, bending and evolving throughout the levels then, when the wind is raging or manifestations of grief are trying to knock you down, the music builds, it crashes and crescendos, demanding to be heard. In these moments you will forget that GRIS is a game without death, the danger, even though it cannot hurt you, feels very real.
The platforming in GRIS is wonderfully smooth, only a handful of times did I find myself cursing before finally making a jump after one too many tries, and the lack of a death mechanic means that even if you are woeful at platformers, there is very little to be lost other than time, and maybe a bit of pride. The puzzle solving while relatively basic, fits well and changes throughout the story enough to keep it interesting.
GRIS is not a game about a hero off on some grand adventure to defeat some world-threatening evil, instead, GRIS is a quiet, delicate journey of self-discovery. It is about finding your voice when it has been stolen from you, about finding the light in the darkness even when that darkness is all-encompassing. Nomada have taken a game, given it zero dialogue and the very simplest of prompts, and somehow have told a story that can be universally understood, and should be played by absolutely everyone.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for an honest review*