Gris can be described in many ways but ultimately the most accurate word for it is, “beautiful.” Gris is a game from Spanish developer Nomada Studios and on the surface will draw comparisons to other indie, “art-house,” platformers like Journey or Celeste. These comparisons are not inaccurate but ultimately sell the singular experience Gris provides short. It is a gorgeous travelogue through grief told with amazing watercolor inspired graphics and mind-bending level design that tells the entire story without a single word being said. Gris is a singular experience that sits comfortably among its contemporaries but has some unique benefits that set it apart and make it a personal suggestion for anyone unsure about trying games. Art house games in particular.
Indie games that deal with subject matter the so called “AAA” studios rarely engage with is a genre as old as videogaming itself but there are a few names that always rise to the top; Journey, Celeste, and Gone Home spring to mind. And much like these games Gris is not only a gameplay experience but a game with a message. Grief is something that on a long enough timescale will affect every person on the planet and Gris pulls no punches, opening on a scene of a girl in the stone hand of an older woman just before her world literally comes crashing down. It states its thesis openly and without ambiguity, grief shatters us and it is a struggle to overcome. Therein however lies the genius of Gris, and indeed art videogames as a whole. Rather than merely showing us that, the game forces you to play, forces you to move forward and in so doing gives a cipher for the player to deal with the slings and arrows of their own world.
The integration of gameplay into the storytelling is Gris’s greatest trick. Ultimately the game is a relatively simple platformer with new abilities doled out each level as the new environments offer new challenges. The gameplay is very solid, the powers simple and quick to grasp, with puzzles that provide challenge but never veered into frustration. Where the genius lies is that each area is not only a physical representation of the stage of grief our main character was working through, but the powers were also steppingstones that allow her to work through the process. The first stage, based on denial, gives the player an ability that turns Gris into a stone block. She becomes an unmovable stone, standing firm against buffeting winds that try to knock her back to the beginning, while a later level gives her the power to soar as she finally accepts what has happened to her. The gameplay itself tells the story just as much as the breathtaking graphics which look completely unlike anything else in the genre. Gris feels like impressionistic watercolors brought to life and every part of the presentation is in a class of its own.
In short there is nothing more to be said than to recommend to all that Gris is worth playing if someone is at all able. The story, without spoilers, is just as beautiful as its visuals and ultimately has an uplifting message about the process of grief. Gris does not frame it as an enemy to be beaten but rather a force we learn to live with, a world that can be repaired but never returns to the way it was. It plays smoothly with a gentle difficulty curve, an evocative and emotionally arresting presentation, and stands as a great example of its genre. Maybe have a box of tissues at hand, or give it a pass if a loss is too raw, but otherwise Gris is absolutely worth playing and has a universal message that requires no words to tell. 5 dragons out of 5.