It’s wonderful to have a girlfriend who shares my interest in video games, but what’s even better is that our gaming preferences are mostly different. While I’m navigating the obstacles of platformers or diving into the stories of the latest AAA adventures, she’s embracing the weird concepts and more artistic experiences which may stray from the basic definition of a video game. Despite our varying tastes, we still have meaningful conversations and share our experiences with the games we each play. Occasionally, we even explore each other’s recommendations and try out new games together.
I want to share with you a game that has become the sweet spot for both of us: GRIS. This 2D platformer-adventure game, created by the Spanish Nomada Studio, boasts a rare and stunning art style and a minimalistic story that relies on your understanding of the events via subtle details given. GRIS has perfectly bridged our differing gaming preferences, catering to my love for adventure and her appreciation of artistic beauty.
A Minimalistic, but Engaging Plot
GRIS opens up with the title character as she’s trying to sing to a fractured statue, only to discover she's lost her voice. The statue soon collapses and Gris finds herself in a magical kingdom, which seems to have lost its color. With no choice but to move forward, she embarks on a journey to find a way out and, perhaps, something else (which I won’t spoil for you).
What’s striking about GRIS is its minimalistic plot, which avoids overwhelming the player with exposition or heavy-handed symbolism. Instead, the game allows you to take things at face value, and the emotion arises naturally from playing. This minimalism isn’t a cover-up for “lazy” storytelling or an attempt to be overly artistic at the price of substance. In fact, by the time the credits roll, the storyline becomes straightforward, but this in no way detracts from the experience.
There's no need for you to remember any of the character's motives, look for clues in people's faces, or search for items that would unlock additional backstories and information outside of the plot. Certain additional collectibles can still be found, and you can get an extra ending for collecting them, but it’s not necessary for a fulfilling experience. The power of the story lies in your connection to the protagonist and the world you inhabit.
Others may say that this level of storytelling is not enough when compared to the storytelling in other video games, both big-budget and indie. I would argue that a game does not need to have a complicated plot for the story to be engaging and emotional. This isn't a movie where the characters have a two-hour window to draw me in. The character and I are connected through our shared experience within this video game. GRIS did a fantastic job here, and after three hours of playing, I found myself wiping away the tears forming in my eyes.
GRIS has a story to tell, and it tells it with as few tools as it can. You’re required to figure out the events yourself, but the amazing thing is that you can understand the events fine, even with the minimalistic approach. The game doesn’t rely on grand revelations, intricate lore, or clever plot twists. It’s a simple story about a girl having to find her way and the player bonding with her as he or she guides her through.
Not only is GRIS skillful at storytelling, it also boasts impressive gameplay. The game is a 2D puzzle platformer that primarily follows a linear path, but every so often challenges you to showcase your timing and creativity. At the start of the game, Gris can only run and jump, but as she progresses on her journey, she unlocks new abilities.
From turning into a cube which increases her weight to being able to maneuver through the sky, the game makes sure you’ll use each ability it gives you to its fullest. No move is forgotten and when it’s combined with the constant environmental gimmicks the game introduces, the experience never becomes dull.
GRIS strikes an excellent balance in its gameplay difficulty, catering to both platforming veterans like myself and those who find such challenges daunting, like my girlfriend. With a bit of patience, all players can surmount the obstacles and timing required. It’s rare to find a game that can cater to such a wide range of players, but Nomada Studios has achieved the impossible. Hats off to them for that achievement alone!
It’s impossible to discuss GRIS without mentioning its stunning visuals. The game pays homage to the beautiful art movement of Cubism, much like Cuphead did for classic cartoons. The color choices in GRIS are simply breathtaking, creating a mesmerizing and complementary environment that perfectly sets the tone for the game. Gris herself is brought to life with smooth, clean animations that fill her with personality, despite rarely seeing her face. And let’s not forget the game’s atmospheric soundtrack, which blends seamlessly with the visuals to create a true work of art that is hard to put into words.
Can video games be art? I always argue ‘yes’ and I believe GRIS is a prime example in support. GRIS is a simple, but visually rich game that connects with players by allowing them to truly be a part of the developing story and a gorgeous canvas that is GRIS’ world. Video games are not limited to one artistic vision or a singular goal. Video games, such as GRIS, prove to be creative, accessible, and mesmerizing experiences that can tell a diverse array of stories and ways of engaging with them.
I believe GRIS is one of the best games ever created and could even be considered a perfect video game. While it might not be my new favorite game, and I’m not sure when I’ll return to it, I can’t ignore that GRIS excels as both a video game and a piece of art. It caters to both experienced gamers and novices still learning the ropes. The game is meticulously crafted with no missed opportunities. The visuals and sound design are a feast for the eyes and ears. Lastly, it tells a compelling and relatable story with minimal exposition, relying mainly on the player’s connection to the game.
Great job, Nomada Studios! I don’t know what your brain has been cooking up in the years since GRIS launched, but whatever it is, I can’t wait to play it and embark on your next adventure! For those who haven’t tried GRIS yet, it’s an affordable game that’s available on almost every platform. I highly recommend giving it a try.
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