When GRIS was introduced a couple of weeks before Gamescom, many drew the easy comparison to Journey, and while its art style and mechanics can be considered reminiscent of Thatgamecompany's masterpiece (you even start the game by sliding through reddish sands with your caped character) both the origins and intentions of Nomada Studio's debut title are somewhat different.
GRIS introduces a completely focused, well-defined narrative following the protagonist Gris and her sorrow after some tragic events befall her. The stages you explore and your progression through are also clear, and even though the devs have made it so you can't die here, there's still challenge in the form of platforming, puzzle-solving, and a little bit of exploration. A peaceful gaming experience about a painful life experience, so to speak.
But of course first and foremost, way before narrative and gameplay are even introduced, GRIS's audiovisual style is the thing that strikes us the most. The studio's first foray into games is the result of an itch the young painter Conrad Roset needed to scratch. Apparently, not only did the famed artist want one of his beloved muses to gain life through an audiovisual experience, but he also wanted players to take an active role in an interactive world. Having joined former Ubisoft and Square Enix Montreal developers Adrián Cuevas and Roger Mendoza, along with the band Berlinist and its main vocalist Gemma Gamarra, the development team was born, as was GRIS; a game that needed no violence nor much of a retro layer, just its obvious indie talent, to convince Devolver Digital to act as a publisher.
For both artistic and narrative reasons (and sometimes as a way to introduce puzzles and challenges), each screen - or set of screens - in GRIS has been conceived as a painting. The camera zooms in and out, pans back and forth via smooth 2D scrolling, as Gris gently navigates the scenery, but there's a convincing sense of connection between the different drawings.
Soon enough Gris's special abilities come into play as she begins to explore the schematic ruins of jars, statues, and walls. We've seen shape-changing platforms, dot-connecting beams, double-jumps, Thwomp-like rocks, upside-down water, and even groups of triangle-shaped butterflies flying Gris up to higher ground, but there'll be many more in the five to eight hours of adventure. After all, her dress is her main form of expression.
Boss battles (such as the blackbird on the video), collectibles, and puzzles complete the experience, with the latter consisting of both skill-based and logical challenges. "I like to say you have to observe it like a painting," Berlinist's musician Marco Albano told us in Cologne, as the absence of death doesn't mean it won't be tricky and some obstacles have to be overcome if you're to progress.
The band's work with the music adds a lot to the emotional side of things, and also keeps the pace and the tone with dynamic tunes and hair-raising choruses cueing in. "We approached the composing as if we were preparing music for an art gallery," says Marco in an upcoming interview with Gamereactor. "Each frame of GRIS is a painting that you can print and hang on your wall, so we try to create this static situation of something that is there and will be there forever."
We're curious to learn more about the story, challenges, level structure, and abilities, as well as seeing whether the interactive elements are clearly noticeable on top of the backgrounds, but as it stands we left Devolver's booth touched and excited by this arty, beautiful proposal. GRIS is shaping up to be one of the most evocative and relaxing titles of the year, and it looks like it could turn the melancholy into a potentially uplifting experience. We can't way to play through the whole painting when it comes out in December on PC and Nintendo Switch.