Thursday, December 13

Review: GRIS [Nintendo Switch eShop]

In the gaming world it often feels like when people shoot for making an experience that is heavy on the artistic side it naturally tends to suffer in terms of gameplay. This was the case for the gorgeous Abzu, which just came out recently, and there have been others over time like Journey and more. They offer a lush and beautiful world, complete with great music and sound, and even convey meaning but the mechanical game for you to engage in playing is often anemic. On Switch we’ve already been blessed with The Gardens Between which had a smart and engaging puzzle experience to go with its audio and visual wonder, but now it is GRIS that has a story to tell, a world full of outstanding hand-drawn art, and puzzle platforming gameplay design that strikes a terrific balance of challenging you without being unfair or aggravating. In short, it manages to be a total package well worth the time for anyone to check out.

As the game starts you’ll witness the main character, Gris, losing her voice. This seems to be both literal and symbolic as you then begin your initial journey through a landscape of colorless ruins. While in the beginning the gameplay is very basic, with you only having the ability to jump, it doesn’t take too long before you’ll notice things of interest along the periphery to find a way to obtain and some puzzles as well. Through the course of the game, and as you overcome different challenges, you’ll gain new abilities that you’ll get an initial introduction to will then quickly be expected to apply. Sometimes you’ll need to be extra observant along the way, looking for cues like a slightly thicker or differently-colored piece of floor or in how the world (or creatures in it) react to your actions, but pretty well all of the puzzles in the game push back just enough to make you feel good about overcoming them without necessarily becoming aggravating.

While the gameplay is satisfying, and manages not to be deficient when compared to the ambitions of the title’s artistic aspirations, it really is the amazing feast for the senses GRIS offers that makes it stand out. Along your journey the dreary grays of the landscape will slowly become imbued with new shades of red, green, blue, and yellow, making everything more beautiful while thematically representing the main character’s progress in overcoming her own emotional challenge. Not enough can be said about the artistry of the game and just how elaborate the details are all around you, even in small and insignificant things. Even with that attention to minute details one amazing thing the game does numerous times is slowly pull back to allow you to see the grand scale of what’s going on beyond your immediate experience. This makes for some some amazing visual flourishes that are memorable. All of these great visuals are then backed by a phenomenal soundtrack that pairs extremely well with the action on the screen, pulling back for simpler moments and then hitting a crescendo when things get more grand.

GRIS manages to blend everything together to deliver one of the most powerful experiences I’ve enjoyed all year. While its runtime is only a handful of hours rushing through it would be a shame, as it really is worth taking the time to savor all along the way. Once you complete the main game you’ll have the opportunity to return and try to track down the optional objectives you missed, those things that were on the periphery you either missed or may have not been able to figure out how to get to. This is a journey I’d very much recommend to just about anyone, it is highly approachable, meaningful, and satisfying on pretty well all levels. It may not be a terribly long game but it is one that will stick with you and encourage a periodic playthroughs in the future to experience it all once again.

Score: 9.5

  • Outstanding visual and audio design
  • Smart and satisfying puzzle platforming
  • An emotional story full of symbolism

  • A runtime of only a handful of hours
  • Some puzzles require being observant and picking up on subtle cues, so if these details are missed it could be frustrating
  • A slow initial start