The Bliss of Playing Gris
In December 2018, developer Nomada Studio and publisher Devolver Digital released Gris, a 2D platformer that Kotaku’s Mike Fahey called “beautiful in every way”. The game’s lush, vibrant art style sets the tone for a smooth platforming game that can sometimes feel more like a cinematic experience rather than a game. These unique qualities, a mix of beautiful art direction, effective controls and animation, and a clear cinematic flair have allowed Gris to gain widespread attention from fans and critics. In April 2019, Nomada Studio announced that the game has sold 1 million copies, a strong success for the studio.
At its most basic, Gris is story about a lost girl (also known as Gris) who is taking an emotional and surreal “journey through sorrow”. As the narrative progresses, the young girl transforms herself and the world around her by learning to accept and live with her fears. As Gris comes to terms with her grief and pain, she moves from area to area, traversing across surreal landscapes like crumbling ruins, geometric forests, and deep underwater caverns. The story itself is often as abstract and surreal as the beautiful art and environments itself. Overall, the abstract story and beautiful have earned developer Nomada Studios numerous critical awards, including “Best Visual Art” at the Game Developers Choice Awards and “Game For Impact” at The Game Awards 2019.
Without the traditional enemies or the even the threat of death in game, Gris is often blissful, tranquil experience. The elegant but simple platforming, platforming that can be done at the player’s chosen pace without urgency, creates an experience quite different from the fast pace platformers many players are used to. Overall, the elegant movement and animations, beautiful sound design, evocative musical score, and gorgeous environments come together to create a blissful, therapeutic experience that stands out among the crowded video game market.
Simple Controls And Elegant Movement
One of the most important elements of a platforming game is the way movement is handled. Tight controls and fluid movement are critical parts of a platformer’s success. Fans who love classic games like Mario cite the smooth and flexible jump as one of the most important elements for the game’s success. While Gris doesn’t have enemies to dodge like many other platformers, the game does require careful and precise platforming. Broken pillars and floating rocks are laced through the early levels, requiring the player to use their jump, and later a glide, to traverse the beautiful landscape. Fortunately for the player, Gris has elegant and fluid animations that make the platforming feel precise.
While Gris only has a limited amount of moves that the player learns throughout the 3-5 hour game, the new techniques are used to great effect. Often times, the addition of a new move adds new dimension to the platforming, allowing you to transverse the environment in breath taking new ways. Often times, the introduction of a new move completely transforms the playing space and obstacles in your way. Like the best platformers, Gris immediately lets you play with your new abilities as soon as you get, providing a rewarding feedback loop for the player. New moves allows you to glide gracefully across the air, swim in deep waters, and soar through the air. Each moves feels perfectly at home in the blissful, smooth playing platformer.
Beautiful Sound Design
In addition to the excellent controls, Gris includes some of the best music and sound design in gaming. The sound design is excellent with a great attention to detail. Sounds like rain, wind, and the splashing of water are key sound effects that recur throughout the game. The sound design provides a sense of tangibility to the surreal environments. Sounds like the crash of shattering vases, the clicking and whirling of mechanical platforms, and the noises of dust scattering helped make the surreal game world feel fully realized.
The game also includes a host of unobtrusive but important verbal cues that the player uses to traverse the environments. One of the best verb cues involve the collectible stars (points of lights) which are required to progress from stage to stage. A simple tone will let you know if you have the required amount of the stars to progress. There is even a specific twinkling sound for when the player travels across newly created lines of connected stars that serve as a bridge from area to area. Overall, the sound design enhances the ambient environment that much of the game is built around. The quiet environments are filled with subtle and carefully chosen environmental sounds that help you understand what you have to do to progress from area to area.
An Evocative Score By Berlinist
In addition to the great sound design, the score for the game, by the artist Berlinist, plays a huge role in crafting the mood for each area and adding emotion to the cut scenes in Gris. Much of game utilizes beautiful, ambient music that synchronizes well with the elegant platforming. In a review of the game for Kotaku, Mike Fahey compared the score by Berlinist to “an auditory dreamscape”. Overall, the music sets the tone and tempo for the player, often leaving the player with a sense of calm. This ambient soundscape is a key to crafting Gris‘s ambient, contemplative mood.
While much of the game include the aforementioned ambient music, keys story scenes include deeply emotional set pieces that require powerful music. In these key story moments, Berlinist created a set of swelling, emotional pieces that provide gravitas to Gris‘s key moments. The two boss sections, which are dramatic sequences of full frantic movement and massive spectacle, boast booming musical scores that hammer home the importance of these moments. Overall, the ambient music of the environments and the evocative music in the cutscenes demonstrate the incredible talent and versatility of the composer.
This contrast between the quiet, ambient music that plays during most gameplay and the tremendously booming music heard in key story scenes is an important aspect of the game. The story of Gris is about a “journey to overcome a painful life experience emotions” and the quiet music often reflects the quiet tragedy that haunts Gris” (Faley). As the music crescendos in key moments, the music helps illustrate Gris’s progress. As the game continues, the dramatic music shows how Gris is emerging out of the shadow of grief and pain. The catharsis of the story would not be as powerful without the immense musical score.
The art direction for Gris is the game’s greatest strength. Visually, the game is stunning and doesn’t really look like any other platformer. The absolute beauty of the atmospheres is paired with an insightful use of color within the world and environments of Gris. The work of lead Lead Artist Conrad Roset and his team should be commended for creating a game with stunning detail in its characters and environments. The level of detail and attention in the aging stone work, geometrically focus forests, and lush underwater areas is incredible.
Color is a key theme within the game, with the player’s narrative progress being marked by the return of key colors. While the early moments of the game are painted in simple, stark colors, as the game progresses vivid hues of red, green, and blue are added to the worlds. In his review for Polygon, Charlie Hall asserted that the art works in “layers of pattern and shape that become more complex over time”. The addition of new colors has the power to completely transform the mood, tone, and identity of the environments. Often times, the new birth of color brings breathtaking sights that were previously hidden.
Another notable aspect of the environment is their scale. The game’s camera is often positions furthered away than most traditional platforming games, this results Gris being dwarfed by the massive structures and environments around her. Charlie Hall, in his review, asserts that the environments call out to the player, “inviting them to pause and reflect on pain and loss and how to move on toward fulfillment and peace”. The massive size of the world relative to the player characters helps lends a unique atmosphere to the game.
Gris is a rare and beautiful game that doesn’t over stay its welcome. In less than five hours, the game has the potential to give the player a unique experience that presents a full range of emotions from haunting grief to unbridled joy.
Unlike many platformers, which focus on fast moving action, Gris offers a more relaxing experience. The combination of smooth animation and platforming, wonderful sound design, a magnificent score by Berlinist, and beautiful environments create a therapeutic and emotional experience.
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