“Inward is not a direction. Inward is a dimension” – Jaggi Vasudev
GRIS understands this quote better than any game before it. On one level, it functions as a wondrous collection of puzzles tied together with expertly crafted platforming but under the surface lies a piece of art worthy of discussion for years to come.
A stunning exploration of trauma and womanhood, GRIS is a must play title.
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Nomada Studio has come out swinging with GRIS. It is an amalgamation of the skills curated by studio heads Adriàn Cuevas and Roger Mendoza and the breathtaking art of Conrad Roset.
It all comes together with the support of Devolver Digital. Based in Barcelona and still relatively young, the studio’s first game exhibits more spiritual ambition in its concepts and design than most games you’ll play this year.
Cuevas and Mendoza founded Nomada with the goal of thoroughly blurring the lines between video game and art, and while this is certainly not unique to the studio, what they’ve achieved with GRIS is nothing short of magic.
Gris is a young woman on a journey of self-recovery. She is spurred on by a trauma that players can only begin to glimpse through metaphorical landscapes and puzzles.
Unable to summon her own voice, Gris’s whole sense of self collapses around her. Players join her as she tumbles further and further into her mind; a vast, ethereal realm in which colour has vanished.
Littered across the realm are stars that have fallen from the sky. The world also includes monolithic statues of women which enable Gris to grow stronger in her quest to rediscover herself.
GRIS’s gameplay is best described as a loose take on a puzzle platformer. It’s clever — sometimes brilliantly so — but smoothes down the edges of difficulty typically found in the genre.
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Removing elements such as death and combat frees up the game to refine its pacing and focus almost entirely on visual storytelling and mood. Which isn’t to say that GRIS does away with convention entirely.
The game operates out of a central tower which houses the fallen stars collected by Gris. Exploring the world will yield more stars and return colour to the landscape.
As colour returns, players will be unlocking new paths forward and granting Gris a small selection of gifts to navigate the world. These gifts are given after Gris endures a trial of sorts.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”The joy of GRIS is in the discovery” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””][/perfectpullquote]Early on, after weathering a harsh desert storm, Gris gains the ability to transform her dress into a solid block. This block is capable of slamming through weakened floors or activating mechanical switches.
I won’t detail the rest of the abilities as the joy of GRIS is in the discovery. Each feels better than the last though, culminating in a truly moving sequence that I won’t forget for quite some time.
[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”Deeply spiritual, achingly human, immaculately constructed” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””][/perfectpullquote]Despite levels being crafted from fragments of Gris’ mind, an assortment of whimsical environments, the places you’ll explore seamlessly fit together.
Only once in the four or so hours of play did I lose my sense of direction.
Using subtle visual clues and level design, GRIS constantly guides you to your next goal without ever giving you the sense that you’re being funnelled through a primarily linear experience.
All Skill Levels Welcome
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The platforming is more often than not on the forgiving side. This is another design choice that allows for player exploration to happen organically. GRIS will eventually test you with some tighter platforming and physics-based puzzles.
These challenges occur naturally in the context of the narrative and only require some quiet reflection on your surroundings to solve. It’s a delicate balancing act, keeping players engaged without ramping up the difficulty in an overt way, but GRIS never stumbles.
I find myself loathe to bring this up because I feel it does a disservice to the game but GRIS‘s approach to difficulty may not be for everyone.
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A focus on accessibility has allowed Nomada to craft an experience that almost anyone could pick up and play but for some, this design ethos will immediately disqualify GRIS from consideration.
While not all art necessitates accessibility, Nomada’s mission statement has taken them beyond traditional skill requirements and GRIS is a better game for it.
It helps, of course, that this mechanical foundation is paired with an achingly beautiful art direction. GRIS is undeniably stunning. A work of art so unique and fully realised that it will make the industry stand to attention.
GRIS stands shoulder to shoulder with Breath of the Wild or Red Dead Redemption 2 and will be talked about as they have this generation. [perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”GRIS stands shoulder to shoulder with Breath of the Wild or Red Dead Redemption 2” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””][/perfectpullquote]
Translating Roset’s distinct watercolour style of art into the game has yielded incredible results.
There is not a single frame of GRIS that doesn’t feel like a painting in motion.
Just as the game shies away from traditional platforming elements so too does it leave most of its narrative up for interpretation. A choice that gives Roset’s work some mighty heavy lifting to do.
Gorgeous Visual Language
Fortunately, it’s a gamble that pays off immensely, with much of GRIS‘ emotional impact conveyed through visual language and small flourishes. Roset’s interpretation of a woman’s journey inward manifests as geometrically strange landscapes and beautifully rendered sculptures.
Gris will explore lush forests, sunken caves, and palaces made of light and flowers, with each location building on the game’s core motifs through metaphor and use of colour. Much like the gameplay, I fear spoiling the game’s most stunning pieces; what Roset has crafted here begs to be seen for itself.
While Roset’s art gives GRIS its arresting visual identity, the game’s soundtrack and audio design are equally magnificent.
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Barcelona based trio Berlinist have crafted a soundtrack that haunts as often as it does inspire. A synth-laden journey through melancholic reverberations and quietly hopeful bursts of vocals.
The soundtrack shifts and evolves as Gris’ understanding of herself does, blending in soft piano notes and ominous strings to underscore the game’s more poignant moments.
Paired with crisp sound design best suited to high-quality headphones, GRIS ties together its various threads into one of the strongest artistic statements of the medium.
I’ve talked a lot about metaphors in GRIS because ultimately much of what you take away from the game’s narrative comes down to interpretation.
Nomada has been very clear about the nature of the game. A young woman experiences a trauma and must find a way to heal, but the particulars are much looser.
If I could give one piece of advice for after you’ve completed the game; seek out women’s voices on this one. I can only interpret and respond to so much in this, it feels crucially important that we listen to how this game makes the women around us feel.
I’ve pages of notes from my few hours with the game; I would frequently stop for lengthy periods of time just to ruminate on what I had just done or seen.
What does it mean that red was the first colour to return to Gris’ mindscape? Did the small creature in the woods represent something or was it just there to be a cute puzzle solving mechanic?
Was the inclusion of *redacted* in the caves a reference to spiritual practices from long ago?
GRIS inspires this kind of thought.
It’s deeply spiritual, achingly human, immaculately constructed and absolutely demands to be experienced in a time when games and art are finally indistinguishable from one another.
GRIS was reviewed on Switch using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Game Title: GRIS
Stunning art direction - 10/10
Clever level and puzzle design - 9/10
Evokative soundtrack and audio design - 9/10
Minimalist narrative - 10/10