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.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
I lost a friend in January to suicide and man did I cry so badly playing this game. I felt like I was playing thru the emotions I myself felt and still am feeling. I had no idea what the game was fully about when I bought it. This was such a beautiful and emotional game unlike anything I have ever played. This game was like therapy for me in a way. Your analysis was spot on.
This game is an absolute masterpiece, the way it combines every element of the game to add up to the story is just incredible. The colors, the music and even the abilities and the puzzles always have a meaning that fits the story. The final scene, with the mother singing and the colors exploding, it’s so well put together that it makes me cry every time, it instantly makes you think of the people, or the relations that you might have lost, of all those rough moments (that darkness always menacing till the end). And to think of your personal evolution and the hits you had to take to grow stronger and get through them. It’s simply so god damn beautiful, have never seen a game like this.
This one wasn’t really on my radar, didn’t expect much. Pretty keen to give it a go now though. The short length is actually appealing to me. I have way too many games to play as it is so anything that I can get through in one sitting and have a good time doing so is welcome.
I think Gris is emblematic of the way in which indie games can lead the industry. By focusing strongly on a particular aesthetic, or mood, the game is less about having the newest most polished mechanics and graphics and more about telling a story in a unique way.
The secret ending was such a disappointment to me. The whole time I didn’t take Gris as an actual person in a fictional world, but rather like the inner force of a woman in depression, going through deep introspection. That the statues represented her material body (or her identity, falling apart). This makes the whole story so much more appealing and deep than having to impose a story of grief of a particular nature (mother-daughter relation), which in the end merely linked the symbolic of stars and fireflies to a anecdotal episode. Really, the game is better left with the mother character out. I found out about that alternative ending watching your interpretation (with which I was in disagreement over the mother’s identity, so I went to check if I had missed something), and I honestly wish I didn’t. It’s a beautiful game nonetheless. But I feel somewhat betrayed, especially as the developers thought it wise to leave this important piece of information hidden.
This game was such a sudden coincidence for me. Gris was purchased only because i found it so beautiful and refined, the music and overall smoothness made me eager to have it. And i had no clue what it’s about. The fact is i lost my mother a year ago, and finding out Gris’s plot shocked me and made cry at first. But i couldn’t stop playing anyway and enjoyed it to the very last second.
Thank you for this article and all your thoughts, you helped me to find something new in the game i loved so much.
I’m in the middle of grieving losing my baby from a miscarriage that happened last month after our second IVF cycle (I’d guess I’m in the depression stage). I played this game over the last couple nights. I was constantly on the edge of tears (not in a bad way), and was full on weeping as the credits rolled. I’m a cosplayer, and immediately decided Gris will be my next cosplay. Almost as a way to honor and say goodbye to my baby before moving forward.
Wow! Just finished Gris and have to say this is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played before. Everything from the music to the artwork to the puzzles. The team destroyed!!! I’m in love with this game and the ending even put a tear in my eye. Such beauty. Absolutely loved this game!
Stunning. If it has a heartfelt and meaningful narrative to go along with its platforming sections (like the masterpiece Celeste) and breaktaking artstyle, it could be something very special.
Aesthatically, this game sort of kind of reminds me of El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. Not that anyone remembers that game.
I’m a sucker for a gorgeous platformer.
It mostly reminds me of Moebius’s artwork. And Kilian Eng’s. Which is a very, very good thing.
Phenomenal analysis for what looks like a wonderful, gorgeous game.
Does anyone know if GRIS looks better on any particular platform? For example, can it display at 4k on PC/Steam? Or is it 1080p max everywhere?
I would say PC/Steam usually has the best performance for Gris, though the Switch version has the advantage of handheld play and runs well. I also heard that you can get 4K on PS4 Pro as well.
You can change res to 4k on PC although some sprites will have slightly pixelated edges.
Animation and artwork is stunning. Kinda gives me the same vibe of when I first played the game Journey.
For a long time I was stuck in denial, anger and depression… this game put a comma at the end of it all, through facing her fears I faced mine!
I bought, started, and finished this game for the first time only a few hours ago. I knew it was well regarded, and a friend of mine desperately wanted me to play it, so I did. There was so much beauty in the world design, its incredible watercolor pieces, its impeccable score, and an ending that broke me. And that was all before I truly sat down and thought of the inner meaning and symbolism of this game.
This game forced me out of any shells I thought I had, and showed me all that makes us who we are as human, all that we may suffer as beings of community and love for one another, and all that we as one species experience in our venture to be free of all of our demons. This game is art in so much more than one form, and in so many ways that I have never thought of or experienced, and while I have never been a victim of depression or this level of grief, nearly to the same degree as others, my admiration and respect for those who pick themselves up on their own two feet, even when they feel heavier than anything else in their world, is unending.
My love for this game is unmatched, and I cherish all that I learned in the span of 4 hours of gameplay, all without a single word ever being spoken.
The artwork alone is worth the price for me. I spend almost as much money for a movie ticket, so I don’t mind the price at all. Especially if it delivers an emotional experience that sticks with me.
And unlike a movie ticket I will be able to go back and play this any time I want. Instead of having to buy it again, to have that privilege.
Really pretty puzzle game available on Switch? Fine, get on my wishlist, I’ll get round to you at some point.
This game looks beautiful and the music sounds great. I am looking forward to lying in my bed and getting deep into this before falling asleep and having the Switch smash me in the face.
Reminds me of the art of Eyvind Earle.
I finished the game yesterday and was really hoping for an analysis of it all since I had some trouble understanding some of its meaning, though the loss/grieving part was pretty clear. Really great analysis. Thanks for making it!
As someone who’s experienced depression for the last three years, I interpreted Gris as being a woman grieving about the loss of self. The ending felt to me like she was finally moving on after regaining the capacity to love herself again. Because depression feels like a constant battle with yourself, I thought the black goo transformed into herself at the end of the story. The blue chapter read as especially beautiful to me since you see the stars in the sky first but than you fall into the black void. I had the feeling the game was saying: “If you want to go up, you have to go down first”. Kind of like how you feel worse the first few weeks of starting therapy because you must first confront yourself with your problems before you can start working on them. The game really made me feel that I could heal again.
It’s a really beautiful depiction of what humans have to confront in their lives. Every time i hear someone speak about these things, i realize that we all have our struggles and hard times. In the end, we are never alone in our grieve and sorrow. Out there is someone going thru hard times. This somehow helps me a lot if i’m feeling bad and i also gain better understanding an more patience for other people.
I love the art, but this game really gives me Monument Valley Game vibes with the colors and story (kind of).
I think Gris is going through purgatory and that her mother is the one who’s grieving (every time you get the achievement for the stages of grief it’s always in her presence). My only reason as to why I think her mother is the affected one is because the statue cries (could mean other things, though) and you ascend towards the sky… Just felt like sharing that.
Thank you so much for this thoughtful and interesting analysis. It’s so interesting how each person’s experience lead them to see things in their own unique way. Love this game.
Nice work. What is the difficulty like on this game? Lately I’ve been burned by a few games with great art simply because they are too hard and I don’t have enough time to memorize their mechanics.
Mechanically it is not hard at all. Jumping is generous, and you can’t die. But it’s got a puzzle element, which is the challenge to me.
I beat it last night. There are a couple challenging jumps, but that is it. It is a very low resistance game that takes some smart lessons about dramatic moments.
There are challening jump puzzles to get the collectibles. If you don’t care about the collectibles, you can skip them.
I was initially highly impressed with the beauty and the music of the game. It was introduced to me by a friend of mine. Coincidentally after this game, my grandmother who I have grown up with and is very close passed on. This game suddenly has a whole new meaning. And i love that this game can relate to anyone who has experienced loss, trauma, or pain in their lives. This game is more than words. And this can only be experienced when you play the game itself.
I played this game 5 times now and I still get teary at the ending because I have lost two people in my life that died by a heart attack and drinking too much Alcohol… It reminded me of myself how I finally accepted their deaths and moved on
This is a very beautiful and bitter sweet game, much like real life.
Great post! I very much enjoyed this game as I felt deeply connected to the characters journey through grief. I found your analysis really interesting and very well thought of. Thank you for taking the time to do this, it’s clear that this game was special to you as well.
Thank you so much for this interesting analysis and discussions in the comments. It’s so interesting how each person’s experience lead them to see things in their own unique way. Love this game.
Interesting, I knew nothing about this game. I will, however, suggest it to one of my daughters who is a therapist, it could interest her when she has younger clients. No doubt reading this article will give her the insight she needs to see if there is a benefit to her practice.
I loved playing GRIS, I bought it on the switch so I could put it in the dock and stream it on my Tv – it looked so good.
The refined, clear artistic direction (not the style of the art), is somewhat reminiscent of Cuphead.
Since I saw the first preview of this game i was fascinated by it. Now, I watch the walkthrough of the game. Cause I as far as I know, this game is not avaible on xbox.