Developer: Nomada Studio
Release Date: December 13, 2018
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Depression can be, without a doubt, soul-sucking and life-changing. What it does is zap the energy away from you, and makes you feel like you’re heavy and dead on the inside, unable to remember what it feels like to feel the warmth of the world around. It’s like going deeper and deeper down a hole that has no way out at all. Despite depression being one of the most common in illnesses, affecting over 18 million adults in any given year in just the United States alone, unfortunately, depression is often not widely spoken about and is misunderstood by many.
One of the many beautiful aspects of video games is that they can let us see, feel, and hear things that we might not be aware of or know. Video games have the ability to make the unfamiliar, familiar — which is why they’re so impactful and memorable for many of us. With this in mind, the watercolor fantasy platformer GRIS, developed by the Barcelona-based studio Nomada Studio and published by Devolver Digital, is a tale of overcoming depression that needs to be shared, experienced, and cherished.
GRIS presents a distinct, well-crafted narrative that has you follow the lone protagonist Gris, a hopeful, young girl who feels lost after dealing with a series of unfortunate events, and she’s sent into a world with a myriad of surreal locales, like ancient ruins and vast forests, that are filled with an array of obstacles. To go back to who she was before, Gris must continue to move forward, acquire and use new abilities along the way, and navigate the mysterious, and at first, the bleak world she’s in.
As the story unfolds, Gris grows emotionally — feeling less empty and more whole over time– and is able to see the world differently; this is portrayed through splashes of color being added to the world around her. The way this inner self-transformation concept plays out before you is what makes GRIS more of an interactive, beautiful work of art than anything else as it’s presented through eye-catching, stunning imagery that’s conveyed through delightful splashes of color and music. The well-defined, enchanting narrative style of GRIS completely captured my attention as I never wanted to stop continuing on with the protagonist’s journey. Playing through GRIS’ tale of overcoming hardship just felt so intimate, pure, and touching — similar to what I experienced as J.J. Macfield in The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories.
I won’t turn this review into a comparison of The Missing, as they both are unique and beautiful in their own distinct ways, however, just like The Missing, GRIS’ side-scrolling platforming gameplay builds up as you move forward — especially since Gris acquires new abilities that live inside her magical, flowy dress. At first, the game offers light, gentle side-scrolling platforming mechanics (move from left to right, jump over or onto obstacles, etc.) that solely let you focus on Gris and the world around her. However, much like how GRIS fluidly transforms audiovisually, the gameplay transforms in a similar manner as it becomes complex yet not to the point of it being frustrating and distracting.
GRIS is a game without combat or death, so thankfully that makes it a more of a stress-free experience. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not challenging every now and then. After successfully passing through certain areas, you acquire new abilities that come into play as you take on light puzzles, platforming sequences, and optional skill-based challenges to acquire collectibles. One of the first abilities you gain is the power to transform into a hefty cube that can be used to smash objects or to hold your ground against powerful wind gusts. Every ability you manifest serve a purpose in all of the game’s various obstacles that are purely satisfying to overcome — there’s shape-shifting platforms to watch out for, platforms that can only be accessed by double jumping, jagged rocks that you need to smash, and bridges to make by collecting small white orbs scattered across the world. In addition to environmental challenges, there are a few other threats you’ll encounter along the way, like a giant, black bird that blows gusts of wind to stop you in your tracks.
All of the abilities and challenges that lie within GRIS, not only add more substance to its gameplay but also are a representation of the strength and courage that Gris gains. Even though there are several challenges in the game, I never felt significantly stumped or confused about what to do during my 7-hour long playthrough (probably would’ve finished the game in about 4 or 5 hours, but I spent a lot of time admiring its scenery). I appreciated the light, calming style gameplay in the game, however, some players may think of it as dull and repetitive. Obviously, those that have avoided games that play similar to GRIS, will most likely have a hard time playing the game.
Gameplay, though, isn’t what makes GRIS special — it’s dreamy watercolor art style, paired with its flowing, enchanting soundtrack and sound design is what makes it an artistic masterpiece. Everything in the game feels surreal and otherworldly due to its mix of delicate watercolors and clean, defined lines art style, and exploring the game is like taking a journey through a fairytale. GRIS’ art fluidly comes to life thanks to the depth of detail in every hand-drawn animation, from the way Gris’ dress and hair flap in the breeze to the way that the small, peculiar creatures of all kinds move about.
The game’s camera provides a greater look at the world around you as it masterfully zooms in and out and pans back and forth as Gris flowingly traverses the scenery. Every single visual element is connected with one another, and it’s a marvelous feat to witness. The soundtrack and sound design in the game heighten your level of immersion, as the sounds and music keep the fluid pace and tone of GRIS, offering dynamic melodies and thrilling choruses throughout.
GRIS is a game that needs to be experienced firsthand for it to be truly be understood, as it emotionally touches anyone that experiences it. It’s a wondrous, elegant, and breathtaking piece of art that’s beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. The way it paints a better picture on overcoming depression is simply beautiful, and you’re bound to be affected by Gris’ personal journey. The hours you spend completing GRIS will undoubtedly create beautiful memories that’ll last for years. With its brilliant and touching art direction, it’s easy for me to say that GRIS is the most evocative and calming title of 2018.
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