There's a trend that's emerged with platforming games over the last few years, where an evocative and memorable art style is marketed toward a very specific sect of fans, masking truly derivative gameplay. Gris falls squarely under that umbrella of beautifully crafted but ultimately unmemorable games. It sports a great-looking exterior, but beneath its glittering shell is a game we’ve played several times in the past, with nothing truly new or inventive to offer.
The sky is fallin'
The beginning of Gris introduces players to a grieving young woman who's clearly battling some heart-rending trauma. We see her singing her heart out, only to lose her voice immediately afterward. Soon, she's sent into a tremendously fragile state that finds her falling with the structures around her into the middle of a vast desert. When she eventually stumbles out of the desert, she finds her footing while on her way to rebuild the world around her as well as her self-worth. That's probably what the game wants to convey, anyway.
You immediately begin controlling the voiceless heroine after the meltdown. She has spindly arms and legs as well as a massive dress and striking blue hair. It's a bit off-putting, but she controls well and feels good to move around. Unfortunately, she only starts out with one ability: jumping. You'll spend the majority of the game doing just that as you press onward, looking for some way to help your forlorn heroine take charge of her destiny and rebuild what was lost.
Unfortunately, there's very little to Gris beyond an abundance of jumping, jumping again, falling, collecting bright dots of light to complete bridges of light and other puzzles, and figuring out where to go next. Sometimes you might need to avoid a storm by taking shelter in a structure before you can turn into a concrete-like block to remain in one place. There are a variety of different abilities to collect from there that you'll earn as you progress as well. These special abilities, manifested by your character's dress, add a bit of complexity to each situation, but they're hardly exciting.
These abilities could be a lot more interesting if there was any real reason to care about mastering them. There's hardly any challenge to speak of in Gris beyond occasionally fouling up a puzzle. There's no threat of death whatsoever, and you won't fail if you miss a jump or have to start over from the beginning of a difficult brain teaser.
The game loses an abundance of immediacy from this decision alone, making the entire adventure feel just a bit pointless. Without anything on the line, why trudge along and see the game through to the end? There's no real reason to invest yourself in this character's plight or see her continue to evolve, especially when you know so little about her and there's no real way to find out, either. At some point, you realize that you're only really there for the game's looks, and when you whittle those away, there's very little left in terms of substance.
Go with the flow
Perhaps Gris would have been better left as an art project, because its visual and aural cues are where it shines.
Gris is akin to a watercolor painting having come to life. It's crisp, colorful, and riddled with some of the best visuals you'll have seen in a game all year. The game utilizes different shades of the same hue to signify different emotions, such as red for intense fear, and perhaps anger, and stress above all. The later calming blue shifts the mood to a much less immediate and frustrating atmosphere. It's all wonderful to look at, but it's nothing we haven't seen before.
The bizarrely-shaped statues, trees, and weirdness such as structures that sprout legs and walk call to mind cult classic films such as Fantastic Planet. There's such a cool, alien feel to it all, so you really feel as though you're exploring some sort of faraway world that your mind can barely grasp. I only wish the visuals matched the gameplay.
The soundtrack by Berlinist is a great accompaniment. It's exceptional when organs swell during sandstorms, the piano gently coaxes you forward, and thumping synthwave emerges when you've conquered a particularly difficult segment. It's a great complement to the action on-screen, but on its own, it's not particularly memorable. It does pair wonderfully with the ever-changing landscapes in-game, however.
Another love song
We've seen Gris before, back when it was sold in the wrapper of Limbo, Journey, or Ori and the Blind Forest. It's the same old platformer that's being turned around yet again for a new audience with new gimmickry that, while functional, simply brings little to the table. It's easy to fall in love with, at least superficially, until you examine it even closer. It looks great, it's smooth, and you sure can jump a lot – but it's unsatisfying in so many ways that make it difficult to recommend over more competent and feature-rich games in the genre. After all, you know the old adage: beauty is only skin-deep.
This review is based on a PC download code provided by the publisher. Gris is available on Nintendo Switch and PC as of December 13, 2018.
- Excellent visuals and watercolor aesthetic.
- Great musical cues that change with the game's themes.
- Smooth gameplay.
- No true way to fail.
- Lack of concrete narrative and storytelling.
- Little to do beyond simple jumping and easy puzzles.
Brittany Vincent posted a new article, Gris review: Flashes of a fantastic planet
but it's unsatisfying in so many ways that make it difficult to recommend over more competent and feature-rich games in the genre
Like... Which? Platformers of this kind that have been released this year that we haven't played before?
I mean, I certainly wouldn't recommend Gris over Journey or similar games, but I don't feel it really has a competence this year. Specially if we consider that platformers like this are a genre on their own, very different from platformers like, I dunno, Donkey Kong or Kirby.
Like... All of them? Platformers of this kind that have been release this year that I've played before and I still enjoyed them more than this game. It has nothing to offer beyond an attractive exterior. There are rudimentary puzzles. That's about it.