When talking about artistic video games, indies are usually the titles that lead the way and provide the most innovative and boldest ideas. In recent years and months we've had games like Gorogoa, The Gardens Between, and plenty more to prove that games can do unique things to bring us not only visual delights but emotional tales as well, and now Nomada Studio is here to add another one to the list - GRIS.
Nomada Studio has said that GRIS as a word means a few things, but most obviously it's the colour grey in Spanish, as the studio is based in Barcelona. After all, during the game's opening we're plunged into a world of black, white, and grey, and it's only by progressing through the three- to four-hour experience that you eventually restore colour to the world.
This is where the 'art' side of things shines brightest because going from a monochromatic world - albeit still with its own merits and style - to a more colourful one is incredibly poignant. The game adds these new tones like a watercolour paint effect, as you can see below, and more come into the mix to make the environments feel more alive as you explore further. You start with red, but soon green and blue come on board, fleshing the world out just as a sketch becomes a fully-fledged piece of artwork.
It'd be remiss to insist that this play on colours is the only thing that makes GRIS look good. There's a lot going on here, but the sharp and angular shapes in this platformer make everything distinct and easy to navigate, as well as visually striking. From the crumbled ruins of old buildings to lofty hallways propped up by grand pillars; it all looks crisp, like designs pulled straight from an architect's notebook.
Scale is important for GRIS to work as well. Without spoiling the story too much, you're meant to feel small in this world as the story starts unfolding, and camerawork achieves this. You may be crossing a bridge or ascending into the sky when suddenly the camera backs off and you're left as this small speck on the screen. In the same way, the camera also closes in when needed - perhaps when you're meeting a friend who can help you out.
Now that we're done gawping at the wonderful world that Nomada Studio has laid out for us, we should probably talk about how GRIS performs as a game rather than as a piece of artwork. The experience is a 2D platformer, but it's not just about moving on a horizontal axis; there's plenty of verticality at play. What's more is that the game finely balances signposting without feeling like you're only walking down a prescribed route, so you'll never find yourself stuck at any point.
There's a lot of running and jumping over platforms, but GRIS adds some different abilities to the melting pot too. The first that you get lets you transform your floating dress into a solid block that can destroy fragile stone, allowing new ways to explore the world and access new areas, but then further on you get the addition of double jump, the ability to swim, and one that we won't mention right at the end (even though it's by far the highlight). All of this is confined to the few face buttons on the controller too, which for us was on Switch.
You'll also be interacting with the world as you go. Butterflies, for example, eventually grant you the ability for a super jump by using their power, but other elements will be useful for your journey to restore colour too. The world is always changing, and you may be surprised to see what new features are introduced as Gris gets further into her quest, changing the way you perceive what's possible.
As you wander through this world you might also notice the soundtrack, which works in unison with the plot and the visuals to add extra emotion to proceedings. As with a lot of games in the past the soft piano helps set the scene for some emotive moments, especially during the ending, but there are also moments that impressed such as when a red storm blows you away, with the music building into a thundering cacophony of noise. Like a silent film, the music adds the atmosphere for you and takes you away with it.
It might be for this reason, or for countless others that we can't say for fear of spoiling the excellent narrative, that GRIS left some of us in tears by the end. After all, it's not just beautiful to look at, but all the gears work to provide a very impactful product when examined as a whole, and special praise needs to go to the ending which - despite being a touch muddled - really ties things off with a lovely little bow.
If you like quaint indie games, emotional stories, unique methods of storytelling, or even just a nice game to look at, then GRIS is certainly one to try. In the short time it's with you it keeps layering on new ideas and images to sustain its momentum, and the mechanics, visuals, and audios all walk hand-in-hand together. Nomada Studio should be proud of what it has created; this is an experience that will stay with you long after the controller is put down.