Gris Is a Stunning Platformer About Grief and Bringing Color Back to Your Life

When I first saw a trailer for Gris, I knew it was a game I wouldn't be able to ignore.

It's the first from newcomer Nomada Studio, based out of Barcelona, Spain, but it definitely left an impact. I simply had to play this unusual 2D watercolor aesthetic and mysterious story, and was delighted when publisher Devolver Digital was happy to provide a key on the Nintendo Switch for me to review.

The Story

The story within Gris is fairly open to interpretation, but that doesn't lessen its impact. It tells the story of a young woman who wakes one day to suddenly lose her beautiful voice. It's not long before the home she knows and loves also crumbles around her, and every bit of color leaves her life. The world is left dull and colorless, hence the title, Gris, which is Spanish for "grey."


(Gris via Devolver Digital)

Inconsolable after her loss, she begins the game weak and powerless, but as she pushes on and deals with what's happened to her, color is slowly restored to her world. The further she gets, the more she works through her trauma and slowly regains the identity of the person she was. By befriending the creatures of her world, and by utilizing her very special dress, she just might be become whole again.


(Gris via Devolver Digital)

The entire story unfurls without any text, so the story of her journey must be inferred through her actions (and by exploring a bit in the game's pause menu). I never knew exactly what was going on—was this all her reality, or is the entire story symbolic of her grief?—but I knew I had to get to the bottom of things and see her adventure through.


The Gameplay

When the game opens, our heroine is so struck with grief that she can barely move. Pushing buttons that might normally be associated with jumping or attacking simply make her stumble to the ground. Still, when she commits to moving forward, she eventually becomes able to run and leap again.


(Gris via Devolver Digital)

That's good, because she needs these abilities to traverse a series of ruins and towers to move on. Along the way, she collects sparkling stars, which act as keys within the game. Gather enough, and you might be able to form a constellation acting as a bridge to the next area, or regain an ability that'll help you on your journey. Better yet, you might restore a key color to her life, adding vibrancy to her world as she works through her pain.


(Gris via Devolver Digital)

Gris is primarily a puzzle platformer, and though it can appear simple on the surface, getting where you need to go can require a deep understanding of the world, as well as your character's abilities. While new obstacles often seem that they're just getting in your way, many are actually tools to help you along the way.


(Gris via Devolver Digital)

When one area batters you with powerful winds, timing is of the essence. That is, until the young woman acquires the capacity to transform her flowing dress into a heavy cube, allowing her to withstand any gusts. While these flurries can be frustrating at first, perhaps they can be of use when you're working with them rather than against them.


(Gris via Devolver Digital)

And the challenge ramps up as the woman continues on her quest. Once she gains a floaty double jump, the platforming gets exponentially trickier. Patterns and treetops dissolve, then reappear in patterns, forcing the player to carefully time every movement. Swarms of red butterflies may give you a boost into the air, while golden ones set off a timed chain reaction to help you get to previously unreachable areas.


(Gris via Devolver Digital)

Some trees are topped with bubbles of suspended water instead of leaves, allowing you to swim through them, and in certain places, gravity inverts when you cross above a certain plane. Toward the end of the game, you'll really have to know every tool that's in your arsenal and exactly what the character is capable of in order to succeed. And while I don't want to spoil the last ability that gets back, it opens up the game in really beautiful ways.


(Gris via Devolver Digital)

Though the game may seem free of external conflicts at first, there are a few rare enemies within the game. They consist of an amorphous black blob that shifts in shape to resemble large, intimidating animals, and while they can't necessarily harm you, they will get in your way.


(Gris via Devolver Digital)

There's also no way to die in Gris, but that doesn't mean that moments of the game won't get your heart pounding. A scene involving frightening eels, which chase you down dark undersea corridors, was terrifying even when I had the suspicion that they'd never quite catch up to me. I would even say there was a jump scare in one dimly lit, spooky section of the game that made me leap out of my seat.


(Gris via Devolver Digital)

The game is pretty linear, with your objective always being to get from point A to point B. Still, it sometimes opens up a little bit by allowing players by placing them in a larger area with multiple objects to collect, and they can grab them in whatever order suits them before bringing them together to unlock what comes next.


(Gris via Devolver Digital)

There's also a "Challenges" section in the menu that keeps track of your achievements in the game. There are 17 in total, but only five are unlocked by simply playing the story through. To discover the others, you'll have to explore away from the beaten path and be super thorough. Along the way, you just might help the character work through the five stages of grief.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I did get completely stuck in a small area about halfway through the game with no idea what to do next, and had to reach out for help to keep going. But once I saw the solution laid out before me, it seemed so obvious. There were a few moments where progress seemed impossible until just the right thing clicked and I understood what must happen next.

A handful of times I also got stuck in areas for longer than I would have liked—not because of a concept that eluded me, but because of my own playing skill. These moments would involve carefully timed jumps and maneuvering of the character, and I'd have to attempt them again and again before I'd finally pull them off properly.

I also had a couple of issues with understanding what objects were actual platforms and walls, and which ones were simply part of the background decide. Over time, however, I came to understand the rhythm of the game and my eyes clued into the differences. I was able to move through the game with no further issues.

Sometimes, the path forward isn't incredibly clear, but I didn't find that to be an issue as I played. Whenever I kept pushing on, I always managed to find myself in the right place. I can't tell if that's simply luck or good game design, but it all worked out for me in the end.


(Gris via Devolver Digital)


The Look and Feel

It's impossible to talk about Gris without address that the game is totally breathtaking. The watercolor style is uniquely captivating, and I found myself wanting to take screenshots of everything because of how many stunning moments there were throughout.


(Gris via Devolver Digital)

But it wasn't just about the colors. Even when all of the color was removed at the game's start and the landscapes were rendered in greyscale, I still thought there was something majestic and surreal about them. The result is something that feels like a playable piece of art—or rather, a bunch of interactive artworks strung together.

The music is also spectacular, gravitating between orchestral and delicate depending on what's happening in the game. Sometimes the sound is minimalistic, making the game's more triumphant or heartbreaking moments even more impactful.


(Gris via Devolver Digital)

Overall, the game has a style that's entirely its own. I was totally caught off guard by the design of the main character, who has the face of a beautiful young woman but long spindly arms and legs like a stick figure. In the end, I think that unusual appearance lent to the otherworldly feel of the game and made it all so much more memorable. It's maybe the prettiest game I've played all year, and I've played some incredible-looking games.


(Gris via Devolver Digital)


The Bottom Line

Even with my stumbles, I was able to finish Gris in a little under five hours. Thanks to the game's completely original style and slightly challenging gameplay, I never grew bored with it—and I intend to return play it again to unlock some of the little objectives that I missed my first time through.

Though the game can feel a little slow-moving at times, I think this is intentional. As I leisurely moved from one end of the screen to the other, I was forced to soak in the carefully crafted atmosphere of the game, rather than ignoring it by rushing and going through the motions. It's a small but mighty game, and I think it's going to leave a big impression on a lot of people.

Gris is now available in the Nintendo Switch eShop and on Steam for $16.99


IF you love beautiful 2D animation in games, click HERE to read my review of the puzzle game Gorogoa.