I have long held that video games indeed are an art form and, of all the titles I've played, few games demonstrate this better than a new favorite called Gris. It has been praised for its beauty, but the game's considerable value goes far beyond its impressive aesthetic.
Gris, created by Nomada Studio and published by Devolver Digital, is a video game that is at once ethereal and tremendously intimate. A poignant journey, it traces the path of the title character, a young girl, as she attempts to overcome a trauma that has shattered her life.
Presented as a side-scrolling adventure, this platformer allows players to control her fate as they navigate a faded, shifting reality and environmental puzzles that obstruct her path toward becoming whole again. Overcoming each obstacle allows Gris to grow emotionally and see her world in different ways.
As she progresses through her grief, new paths are revealed and her dress is imbued with new abilities to aid in navigation. Her dress can weigh her down, allow a double-jump and enable underwater swimming, sometimes using combinations, for gameplay that is fluid and entertaining.
Clever level design means Gris can take advantage of the environment to initiate leaps, leapfrog shifting platforms like tree tops, operate weights or moving platforms, and even use frozen settings to optimum effect. Gameplay variety is thoughtful, though this is not a hard core challenge.
Indeed the game is described as "an experience free of danger, frustration or death." While the stakes are high for the title character, the journey is meant to be positive and life-affirming. In fact it is an altogether sublime gaming experience that rewards the player with an emotional and powerful journey.
Part of this equation is the superior presentation that inspires with its minimalist but gorgeous design, lithe animation and lyrical score. A highly stylized look with graceful lines and a striking color palette is accompanied by cinematic cut scenes and spare but melodic music to create a unique and transcendent display of rare artistry.
Gris actually reminds me of another classic game, though the comparison might not be readily apparent. But in its simplicity of design, emotional journey, engaging gameplay and stark but appealing aesthetic I'm reminded of Shadow of the Colossus.
That game likewise begins with a desperate quest and conveys the tumult of its journey with action rather than words, as the protagonist follows a similar solitary path in a vast world of changing settings and personal challenges in an effort to save a life.
While the obstacles in Shadow of the Colossus are more physical they still take an emotional toll -- on the player and on the main character Wander -- not unlike the significant impediments confronting Gris as she struggles through the trauma she's experienced. And both characters are changed as a consequence.
Gris is a game that begs to be played. To describe its inner workings in greater detail is to spoil what makes the experience of playing the game so rewarding. And yet there are elements worth noting, which I will allude to below though I encourage gamers to explore on their own what the game has to offer.
I'll try to avoid giving too much away but did want to emphasize certain features that I appreciated. First is the gameplay that reveals itself over the course of the game, either in ways that Gris can use her dress, the environment or a combination of both to proceed.
For instance, her dress can form a heavy block, allow more lift in the air or enable her to glide underwater and, depending on the setting, can interact with the environment in multiple ways. The settings themselves are dramatic, with traversal across land, air and water in sometimes shifting environments and perspectives.
Creatures, too, might aid or obstruct during the journey and at times in profound ways both in gameplay and in cutscenes. The interaction between Gris and them can be inspired, especially with one "forest friend" in particular and, later, with a denizen of the deep.
There are breakthroughs and setbacks throughout, and the immersive presentation and gameplay ensured I shared, to an extent, the elation and heartbreak that Gris experienced during her journey. That is creative and effective game design at its best.
It should be noted that there are optional skill-based challenges in the game and, to judge by a tally that the game keeps, I still have several to unlock/achieve even after completing the game. So in that regard there is added replayability, besides just wanting to revisit a remarkable journey.
To the extent there are any negatives, I did have trouble on a few occasions (playing the Switch version in portable mode) detecting telltale environmental clues for triggering certain actions, namely due to the relatively small imagery and similar shades of color to the surroundings. But this didn't have an appreciable impact on gameplay or on my enjoyment of Gris.
For all the reasons described above, Gris easily stands as one of my all-time favorite games and, in my humble opinion, as a landmark of video game design and interactive art. I look forward to seeing what Nomada Studio has in store in the future.
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