A pleasant artistic platformer
In the ever-increasingly crowded genre of indie platformers, it’s difficult to stand out. To get noticed, these smaller titles need a unique hook – whether that’s gameplay, story, or presentation. Some games manage to do so, while others disappear into the abyss without even scraping the surface of the digital stores. Hopefully, Nomada Studio will be able to to avoid such a thankless fate with their new release, GRIS. This is a rather lovely platforming adventure that hits all the right notes, and elevates itself through great presentation and relaxing but fun gameplay.
GRIS is a minimalistic 2D platformer that’s focused on the overall “experience” rather than a detailed narrative. It’s very much in the same wheelhouse as the likes of Abzu and Journey. As such, there’s no text or dialogue; players simply assume the role of a young woman perched atop a statue’s hand. She seems at peace, and has an aptitude of singing. However, something or someone soon causes a collapse, and she loses her voice and falls to the strange world below. From here, players set out on a journey to discover the various corners of this game world, with plenty of ambiguous symbolism.
The gameplay in GRIS can be summarized into three categories – platforming, puzzles, and some exploration. Regardless of what you’re doing, though, the game makes it fairly obvious that it’s meant to be a relaxing experience. There are no death pits beneath platforms, no enemies to speak of (aside from hostile creatures that act more as puzzles), and no dangers to worry about. Failing a jump or puzzle simply means you have to walk back to the beginning of the puzzle.
In its platforming, GRIS is straightforward and accessible. The simple controls make it easy to maneuver the main character, and not much precision is required. Keyboard works fine, as does a controller, and there is no cursor or aiming needed. The game throws various twists in the form of platforms that either move, occasionally disappear, or change shape, demanding a bit of good timing, but it’s not really ever challenging. The tougher tasks are reserved for the optional collectibles that are found in each level, which usually require you to complete the same platforming section but with a slightly harder series of jumps. In late game, there are sections that combine puzzles and platforming, and these can be tricky, but your progress remains linear so there's no backtracking.
To navigate the puzzles, the main character has just a few moves, such as turning into a stone block with a press of a key, which helps her sink in water, break through vulnerable surfaces, and push down on switches. She can also add a second jump/glide through the air. Such abilities combine to solve most of the game’s puzzles, alongside level-specific abilities that are only available in certain spots, such as an upwards air boost, or a section where an ice sculpture of the character is formed every few moments. Just as with platforming, some puzzles include an optional collectible item that typically requires a few more moves to reach.
As an exploration game, GRIS is fairly linear. You reach a central area where symbols on the walls track which sections you’ve visited and how many optional collectibles have been gathered. As you explore the levels and return, usually only one new area opens up, as the game keeps teaching the players new mechanics. As such, the central area is a hub but your progress through the game is mostly linear, so it's not a metroidvania per say. Still, it works and helps give you an idea of your progress. You'll also come across areas where you must venture in a few directions and solve a quick puzzle to collect an orb, then return to the center and unlock a path forward.
There are a few different corners of the game world you’ll get to visit, and each features its own style and types of platforming/puzzles. The levels aren’t particularly unique – a red desert area, a lush green nature area, a rainy water-focused area, and so on. You’ll be doing a little bit of walking in each level were nothing much happens – you are meant to simply take in the environment, and the game succeeds in making these tranquil moments work.
They work because GRIS has rather great presentation. Its art design is lovely to look at, with a unique style that may remind you of The Banner Saga, but is nonetheless its own. The visuals are sharp and the animations flow nicely together. The various regions have their own color palette and atmosphere, making them memorable. You'll encounter collapsed ruins, strange creatures, explore dark caves, and it's all quite nice to look at. The static camera effectively zooms in and out to showcase the wonderful art and background, and give the game a sense of scale. The vivid colors of each environment are always great to look at, as they blend and contrast against each other depending on the situation. Alongside the impressive visual design, the soundtrack is quite outstanding. From the bombastic original music during moments of action, to the more ambient sounds that you'll hear during exploration, GRIS features one of the best original scores of the year.
GRIS is a game that manages to deliver on its aspirations. It's a casual platforming adventure that achieves a great mix of exploration and puzzles, keeping everything feeling very light and accessible. Those seeking a bit more challenge are free to stick around the levels a little longer and grab all the optional orbs. It doesn't outstay its welcome, taking players across a series of levels that keep changing things up throughout the 4-5 hour journey that's fairly priced. And it looks and sounds great while doing so. If you're in the mood for a lighthearted adventure with some simple but enjoyable gameplay, GRIS is certainly up to the task.