Gris

The first level of Gris is a boring, frustrating, annoying slog that overstays its welcome. Gusts of wind hold you back and stunt your progress. You eventually get the ability to turn into a block so that you don’t get thrown backwards and have to wait for the wind to die down. By this point, it was already clear that Gris had more care given to it than your typical art-house symbolism title. The first time I messed around with the jump button, I felt a weight come off me when I realized “oh hey, they actually made sure jumping feels good. That’s a relief.” And then I got to the gusts of wind and was like “oh dear.” This just was not a well-designed section.

Fuck this stage. Fuck it in its ear with a rusty garden rake.

I led off the review talking about that, because if not for that level, Gris might have become the new #1 game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. For the rest of this review, it’ll be the elephant in the room. The part where I think, god damn, was there nobody at Devolver Digital who could have taken the Gris team aside and said “you know, that first section really sucks. You should dump it or at least shorten it significantly”? For all the people who think I go too negative on games that I like, I wanted to get that part out-of-the-way. It’s literally the only major complaint I have about this: an absolute indie masterpiece.

Gris is ostensibly about mourning, with the main character going through the five stages of grief. But I’ve got to be honest: a lot of the symbolism was lost on me. And trust me, it’s not because I’m unfamiliar with loss. On Christmas morning in 2017, my service dog of eleven years passed away. I’m sure for some people they think “a dog? Seriously?” Yea, a dog. One that spent eleven straight years by my side. That saved my life multiple times. That made me realize my own capacity to love. You can’t just take that shit away from someone and not have it hurt. In Gris, mourning is symbolized by a loss of voice, and this is the one form of symbolism I can relate to. Because it’s hard to articulate exactly how much you’re hurting. It’s as if your voice has been taken. That part I connected with.

The statues and the returning of color to the world being part of the healing process? Not so much. In fact, I found humor in the idea. I’m sorry to anyone who gets offended by this, but the first color you return to the world of Gris (which is literally the French/Spanish word for “Grey”) is red. And it’s supposed to be this profound, first-step-in-recovery moment in the game. In reality? It totally looks like the girl just had her period.

I’m not joking.

Maybe they should have started with a different color.

Now, at this point in the game, the mourning aspect hadn’t been clear to me. I honestly wasn’t sure if the idea was supposed to be a demented adult version of Rainbow Brite menstruating color back into the world. Your mileage may very on how much the symbolism works for you. It really didn’t do a whole lot for me. I don’t feel any better about Cherry’s death than I did before. I’ve heard from some people who say Gris did help them feel better about a recent loss they experienced. I wish I was with them, but I’m not. So for me, Gris has to make it entirely on its gameplay merit.

And it does.

Gris is a truly special game as a game. And I think that’s getting lost in the discussion. People are obsessing over the gorgeous graphics, the pantheon-level soundtrack, and complex symbolism of the crushing sensation of being in mourning. All those things matter, but if Gris had been your typical artsy platformer, nobody would get to appreciate those things. Trust me, I’ve played a lot of games that aspire to be what Gris pulled off. They don’t do it because they rely on the visuals and the metaphors and forget that they’re supposed to be a video game as well. Gris never forgets what it is, and that’s to everyone’s benefit. It means we get to take in the whole of the experience without the distraction of that vision being horribly executed. Nobody will ever need to make up excuses for Gris because Gris is really fun to play. You know, like a game is supposed to be?

This is supposed to represent “depression” but all I could think of was “who left that banana peel there?”

Controls are a big part of that. Gris is rock-solid in every single aspect of movement. You feel one-to-one with the lead character. Even the clunky joycons of the Switch manage to cease to exist in your hands, allowing for total immersion in the game’s world. Based on my track record with art-house games, I wasn’t expecting that. That for me was the story of Gris from start to finish. My expectations based on the graphics and the concept were low. A swimming section happened and I cringed upon realizing I was in water. Around thirty-seconds later, I realized Gris had the best swimming controls maybe in the entire history of video games. Like.. huh.. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect to be rocketed up into the sky like Superman using butterflies that help you super jump, but I really didn’t expect it to control so naturally that I never once messed up any of those jumps. Gris might be the best controlling 2D platformer of its kind. Good controls don’t make a game, but bad controls absolutely will break your game. Gris figured this out, and because it did, we get to appreciate the level design. Aspiring indie devs: this is a game you’ll want to play while taking lots of notes.

If you think of Gris as a 2D version of thatgamecompany’s Journey, you’ll enter Gris with the right mindset. Having said that, I liked Gris more, and people who don’t like Journey at all are digging Gris a lot. That’s because it shows off a lot more creativity. The basic gameplay idea is you walk around collecting stars (Christ, even in indie art-house shit, it is always stars isn’t it?) to form constellations that help guide you to the next section of the game. There’s no fail conditions in Gris and no way of dying. This often ends up meaning “slow-paced and sloggy.” But, besides the first area, Gris is positively brisk and almost perfect in pacing. There were two instances where I realized I wasn’t on the right path, one of which was on me, and one of which I think is a split between being my fault and bad design: an underwater temple has a pathway that takes you to fish that you need to super-jump, which to me implies that you’re supposed to take the fish through that tunnel. But you’re not. As far as I can tell, there’s no reason for that tunnel to be there. Weird.

This is the part mentioned above. I thought I was supposed to take the fish through this extremely twist-and-turny pathway and jump from the right side of the screen up to that column, then hop from it to get to the star. Nope. Actually, you take the fish an entirely different route and get the star by falling from up above onto it. And it begs the question: why is there even a secret tunnel that takes you to the red fish hidden under the middle of the under the center of the underwater building? Because it serves no function. You can get to the red fish that give you the super-jump via a much-more straight forward means. If not for that, I’d never spent 30+ minutes trying to make that (seemingly impossible) jump. Also, can you even see the character in this screenshot? She’s there, I assure you, but visibility becomes an issue many times in Gris.

But otherwise, Gris really just kills it in terms of having some of the best uses of classic gaming conventions. There’s an underwater section. I hate those. But Gris has one of the best ones ever. There’s a section where you lead an NPC creature through a series of platforms. I hate those, but Gris has one of the best ones ever. There’s a section where you switch gravity and have to do everything upside-down on the ceiling. I hate those, but Gris has one of the best ones ever. It feels like the developers set out to take every single crappy gaming cliché and right the wrongs of them to show they can be done in a fun, fresh way. I’ve never seen a game that is this ambitious and yet still feels like it manages to overachieve.

If I want to get nit-picky.. and I sort of have to because, you know, that’s my job.. sometimes the camera pulls too far back and combines with the colors to completely wash out where you are on the screen. At least one time I got a star without even seeing where I was or how I got it. And there’s a section with a giant eel that feels like it could have been an intense, white-knuckle action beat.. but actually it’s a glorified cut-scene and you have as much control over the girl as you do the cars at the Autopia at Disneyland. And I’m not totally in love with the Gris character model, which has spindly appendages that reminded me of a Daddy Long Legs and kind of creeped me out a little bit.

The world has this Ico/Shadow of the Colossus architecture vibe to it and often gave me a wonderful sense of vertigo.

Otherwise, Gris is a masterpiece. I know I used that word already, and it’s a word I normally try to avoid using because it feels overplayed. But, there’s really no descriptor that fits Gris better. Masterpiece. The rest of the game speaks to how bad that first stage is. It just sets a really bad tone for the game. It’s the anti-Limbo. The first stage is the least memorable, and it’s all uphill from there, whereas for Limbo (another game that was about loss and symbolism.. maybe), everyone remembers the spider in the first act, and then it was all downhill from there. If there’s any justice, Gris, a better game that actually has symbolism that means something as opposed to being just pretentious, abstract garbage, will dethrone Limbo as the top artsy indie platformer in the minds of the public.

And when fans of the game spread the word of Gris, sure, talk about the graphics and the sound and the emotions.. but remember to tell people the game is really fun too. It’s the part of the equation nobody is talking about. And they probably should, because it’s the best part of Gris. It’s a tremendous video game, and isn’t that why we’re all here?

Gris was developed by Nomada Studio
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$16.99 asked “how fucking stupid are you Facebook?” in the making of this review.

Gris is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Advertisements

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

5 Responses to Gris

  1. jbevan70 says:

    I so need to get around to playing this. It looks absolutely spectacular, and knowing that it gets better after a disappointing first chapter is encouraging.

  2. Rob says:

    Excited to eventually get to this game. Just love the look of it, and I’m glad to hear it controls great too.

  3. That Gris game surely looks beautiful

  4. I heard that it was rather short, for a game at that price. I don’t mind and prefer games avoiding padding to inflate length, but some other people might. Perhaps you could have talked a little about it.

    • I guess because I thought it was the perfect length and didn’t outstay its welcome, but yea 3 – 4 I would guess is normal for the average player and no replay value unless you just want to gawk at the visuals more.

What do you think?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: