GRIS is a game of wonder set alongside pain, sorrow and – eventually – hope. The titular protagonist begins the game losing her voice, and tumbles into a world of ruins, devoid of colour. It’s down to you to bring back what has been lost.
Strictly speaking, this all plays out as a puzzle platformer – explore; find stuff to unlock a barrier; continue. The controls are – fortunately – rock solid, the left of the screen becoming an analogue directional controller, and the right being reserved for action gestures. So far, so good.
But to casually dismiss GRIS as yet another platform game misses the point, because this is a rare game that borders on being a work of art.
A brush with excellence
GRIS looks the part. Its hand-painted world is dazzling on the Retina display, and packed with tiny details. That you spend quite some time simply trudging along will only irk if modern-day gaming has eroded your sensibilities to the point you need to blow things up every five seconds.
There are echoes of Journey. But the world of GRIS feels more considered, defined, and detailed. Delight often comes from simple things rather than the overriding quest, such as shaking an apple from a tree, or delicate underwater animations. (And that’s another way in which GRIS feels different – you’ll often adore the water sections. How often can you say that about a platform game?)
Don’t say a word
The stirring score swells and ebbs in all the right places, too, heightening the emotional impact at key moments. This is helpful in a game where storytelling is conveyed entirely wordlessly, with only the odd symbol for guidance. Then again, while you’re left inferring what’s going on, it’s clear Gris herself is having a bad time of it, initially finding it hard to even walk, and at intervals collapsing on-screen.
But moments of hope pepper the despair. Gris finds starlight to form constellations that are used as illuminated platforms to reach new areas. At the end of each of the game’s sections, watercolour washes across the screen, bringing vibrancy and life to a previously monochrome world.
I’ve mostly talked about aesthetics and atmosphere, because that’s where GRIS’s focus lies. However, there is also plenty of game here – four or five hours of intrigue and exploration that doesn’t outstay its welcome, including grin-inducing moments, such as Gris’s dress transforming into a rock to smash through broken ground, or when you’re spied on and followed through the woods by a little creature.
In fact, GRIS only stumbles heavily when it strays too far into conventional platform game territory. There are a number of moments that demand the kind of pixel-perfect precision that will give older players Jet Set Willy flashbacks. They seem unnecessarily strict in a game mostly about grace and the journey itself.
Still, these are blips on an otherwise enchanting path, in a conversion to iOS that has both a confidence and also a lightness of touch that’s all too rare on mobile.