An Aesthetic Masterclass in Animation and Music
Gris has been on my radar for months now. A frequently platted game which adorns r/trophies multiple times a week, It’s been sat in my wishlist waiting for me to get through the bulk of my to-plat list.
The beautiful watercolour art style is an instant attention-grabber and I’ve seen people use the word “beautiful” more than a few times when describing their experience with it, so just how many times am I going to use it in this review?
As an Art Piece
Gris is undeniably beautiful (yep, I said it already). Any individual with even a grain of creativity in their body will immediately be able to understand the effort which has gone into the visuals.
Not only is the game astonishingly rendered with watercolour visuals, which shift and spread as though still wet and alive, but the animation in the game is also second-to-none. The animators went the extra mile to bring truly organic life into the game with movements that mimic air and water, every motion flowing smoothly to the next as though the game is just one big ballet and even the props are cast members.
To accompany this feat of graphic design, illustration and animation, a soundtrack crafted in perfect accompaniment will fill your head as you play through the surreal environments, setting the scene and conveying emotion where there’s none to be found explicitly. As somebody without knowledge of music theory or even just music in general, the only truly acceptable way to describe the compositions would be “beautiful”.
At pivotal moments in the game the music will swell and build with such gentle aggression that you begin to feel its impact affect you physically before it gently falls back into its comfort-zone of melancholic grace.
The art style evolves throughout the journey, too, as Gris (appropriately, this is the french word for “Grey”) collects more and more colours to add to the game’s watercolour pallet, bringing to life the different elements in the form of their natural colours.
Each world is further brought to life with little things. Little creatures which patter around and drop to a complete standstill when approached, or small effects such as the dust clouds which burst up from the ground when Gris jumps, or the way the audio becomes stifled when Gris drops into water but comes crashing back to life as she gracefully leaps out through the surface.
In a way, given the organic animations found in even the more inorganic things, and the way that things seem to spring to life when Gris draws near, it kind of feels like the world is interacting with you rather than you interacting with the world. It’s a strange feeling which helps to emphasise how surreal the environments are.
As a Game
So, I’ve established that Gris is a marvel in terms of art. As a standalone short film – perhaps even more than that – the project would still be an impressive artistic feat and would likely still pick up decent recognition and acclaim.
So does it need to be a game? Does it benefit from being a game at all?
In my opinion, not so much. The biggest reason I can see for this being a game is that they would simply receive more praise for doing it as a game. Making video games is hard. You’re not just trying to make music and animation and art, you need to make those things interact with each other, you need to be able to account for – and limit – all the things the player could do to ruin their own experience and you need thousands more assets and animations than you would for a traditional animation.
That makes it more impressive. Take that and couple it with the fact that the gaming industry doesn’t have a huge repertoire of games like this, and it then begins to stand out much more than it would within the already very creative animation landscape.
Suddenly the game is winning awards and garnering a lot of following where maybe in the world of animation it would simply be a raindrop in the ocean.
In that respect, it would be easy to just call the game an interactive art piece, hardly a game at all… But that wouldn’t be fair.
The game plays out as a fairly standard platformer but as you advance, new mechanics are introduced and you’re asked to think about the world and the environments in a different way, to think about how you might be able to affect it to solve puzzles.
Forces of gravity and momentum are played with to a grand scale and puzzles often involve thinking outside the box. It is nothing too complex that it might become frustrating or ruin your experience and in the end, the solution ends up looking something like a dance of its own, as you jump from a pool of water to the ceiling and use red birds to launch yourself back to the ground, there’s grace and beauty to be found in every motion.
However, this grace can get in the way at times. For example, I found that the double-jump and glide mechanics focus too much on looking graceful, rather than being functional or practical. The timing feels awkward and unnatural when compared to other platformers and it can mean you have difficulty timing a particular jump in a jumping puzzle, sending you careening back down to the ground where you will need to start the process all over again.
This can cause the kind of frustrations that the developers clearly wanted to keep out of their game, all for the sake of a little more beauty.
As a Story-telling Experience
I will often avoid “artsy” indie games as they more often than not fall prey to a trope which I find particularly irritating, and sadly Gris is no exception.
I am talking, as you may have guessed, about having an “implied” story. I understand why this cliché is so present in indie gaming, as of course a team of talented artists, animators and coders shouldn’t be held back from creating something excellent just because they can’t afford a great writer or can’t pay a group of voice-actors to tell their tale.
However, as somebody who values storytelling in video games quite highly, it’s hard for me to simply turn a blind eye to this. Story-telling is, after all, why I am a PlayStation fan, it’s what originally won me over to the console family so I’ll often put a lot of weight on whether a game tells a good story and how it tells it.
Most indie developers will just imply their story, though. They’ll tell you a bit of it through visuals, or small illustrations, or flashbacks or maybe even just abstract and minimalistic artworks, and the whole point is for you, the player, to determine for yourself what you think the story is about.
While this may be portrayed as a profound and lofty way to tell a story, leaving snootier gamers turning their noses up at those who say “I just want to know what the story actually is”, it comes off as lazy and half-baked. Like the developers had a good foundation for a story but didn’t want to put the time into fleshing that out and giving it more life.
So, while I was able to come up with my own interpretation of the story, my own ideas of what Gris is grieving and how the gameplay tells a journey of empowerment and recovery, I can’t help but feel like it would have all had much more impact if the story was just a little more set in stone, if her motivations were just a little more fleshed out.
Such is the snobby world of art though, I suppose.
My Gris Trophy Experience
My First Play-through
Gris isn’t a challenging game by any means, some of the puzzles can be tricky at face-value but once you get to grips with the mechanics involved, suddenly it and all related puzzles are so simple you don’t really need to think about them.
The only places I got caught up a little involved using the double-jump/glide across large gaps as I’d often trip up over the awkward timing and end up needing to repeat the puzzle.
Chapters get longer as the game progresses and all of them have “Memento” collectibles. Some chapters also have hidden actions to complete multiple times, such as knocking over all of the rock piles in chapter 2. I approached the game blind at first, without looking at the trophy list, and just sort of assumed what was needed.
Finding the Mementos was obviously going to be a trophy, and I managed to get above half of them in each chapter. I also managed to complete some of the hidden actions because I was just naturally interacting with everything in every way I could.
By the end, I just needed to find some special birds in chapter 5 and collect the five stages of grief. I was a little surprised to have not found any of these throughout the whole playthrough, but luckily the game has chapter select so I jumped into there to clean up what I was missing.
Thanks to chapter select, clean-up was a breeze. What really took the most time was trying to figure out what was needed for the stages of grief in each level. Once I’d figured out they were mostly tied to statues of the girl in each stage, then I’d just try every command I could when stood by one until something worked. (We have a full guide for these here).
In one level I only needed 2 Mementos which weren’t far from a chapter select checkpoint, so I took the risk here to leave the stage without finishing it to see if that progress would be saved, and it was. This made things even quicker, knowing that once I had all of the optional collectables, Mementos and the stage of grief from each level, I could just hop out of there without any consequences and jump straight to the next level I needed to finish up.
Since I already knew the solutions to all the puzzles from my first playthrough, I was getting through this stage of the journey at a decent speed.
All in all the game took around 5 hours – maybe less – to plat and it was indeed an enjoyable and pleasant experience, definitely one I would recommend.
Chapter Select Cleanup
Gris Trophy Tips
Notes about Chapter Select
Luckily nothing in this game is missable thanks to Chapter Select. Unfortunately you can’t go back to each area with your new abilities, simply due to how much the environments change as you progress, but it is good to know you can simply go back.
Each chapter has 3 parts which you can select to return to, the one at the top will always spawn you standing right outside the door to the stage from the central hub/temple thing.
This is, unfortunately, the only way to track which ones you need, so it might be helpful for you to keep a notepad nearby in case you need help remembering.
It’s incredibly useful to note that you can leave a chapter once you have what you need. You do not need to finish a chapter for your collectible to be saved. Just grab what you need and then feel free to Chapter Select out of there to the next area.
Note that Chapter 1 has 2 Mementos in it, but don’t waste your time trying to find the second one just yet. Return to chapter one (by physically walking there at the temple, not with chapter select) once you have the ability to swim underwater, and then start swimming left, you’ll find it easily enough.
Stages of Grief Guide
The game’s platinum trophy is very easy to acquire, but there is just one set of collectibles (amounting to 5 trophies) which are pretty difficult to figure out. If you are struggling with this then we do have a guide for that right here.
That concludes my Gris platinum trophy review. If you enjoyed reading this review, please do let us know, it means the world to us when we hear feedback and we love engaging with people over the game we just platted. It’s basically the only thing motivating us at the moment!
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