Gris is one of the most visually stunning and emotionally evocative games I have ever played.
And it achieves it with almost nothing. Minimal music. The sound of birds chirping, or the wind rushing. A green-haired girl in a floating black dress, exploring an initially greyscale world. The game has no dialogue, and no narrative text. Yet the game aches. It’s a game about loss, and about coming back from it, and it pulls you in and doesn’t let go.
You play as a girl who has lost her voice. When you first start the game, everything is black and white, except for your hair. You can only plod slowly through the landscape, the action button causing you to collapse to your knees in despair before slowly getting up again.
After a while, you start to run, and it feels so freeing and exhilarating. Now, you can jump, and the action button doesn’t make you collapse, but simply curl into yourself for a moment and weep.
Soon, you return the first colour to the world — red. Everything becomes red-toned, and this, combined with the roaring wind you face in this level and the ability you unlock to smash things, made me feel it represented a new stage of grief, moving on from sheer blankness into anger. After a while struggling in this world, you gain a new ability — the chance to turn to stone, and stand firm against those battering winds.
Continue on, and you unlock more colors, and gain more strength back. New colors mean new aspects of the world are revealed, the grey desert fading to reveal impossible castles and lush caverns, and also new abilities to help you progress.
Mechanically, Gris is a puzzle-platformer. You can’t die or otherwise fail — all you can do is fall and be forced to reclimb a bit again — and most of the puzzles come from using your powers in increasingly inventive ways. The game guides you through with a gentle touch, so you always feel like you’re figuring it out yourself, but never actually feel stuck or lost for long. Taken literally, your quest is to regain your voice. But nothing about Gris suggests it should be taken literally. It is an ethereal watercolor world, touched with magic and impossibility. At heart, the game is a story about refinding yourself. It’s about recovering from grief and seeing the beauty in the world again, and learning to stand brave and strong against whatever storms or darkness may batter you.
The game is about 4 hours long in total, and worth every second. I played it on Switch in handheld mode, but it is also available on Steam for Mac and PC.