Hands on with Gris, an Artful 2D Platformer Releasing Later This Year
As I stepped foot into a Lower Manhattan art installation, I was greeted by a sparsely decorated room. Small frames of artwork hung from its walls as a projector silently looped a trailer — it was a scene straight out of your favorite arthouse indie film. The gentlest man ever approached me, hesitantly but also seeming to temper excitement. He wasn’t entirely sure if I was press or if I had seen the art outside and been impressed. I had arrived a tad early to the event but we shook hands, introduced ourselves and soon enough he introduced Gris, the 2D puzzle platformer Nomada Studio has spent years trying to get off the ground.
I could immediately tell Gris, Nomada Studio’s debut game, was going to be vastly different from anything I could’ve expected out of Devolver Digital — the off-kilter publisher of games like Hotline Miami, Serious Sam and even the pigeon-dating simulator, Hatoful Boyfriend. The stark contrast between Gris and Devolver’s previous offerings is an honor that the team at Nomada Studio are proud of and actively leaning into.
Gris is a watercolor painting come to life and the painstaking execution behind every frame is arresting. Colors bleed out from the point where, presumably, a paintbrush blotted the canvas. As they emanate from their origin, hues lighten and a dynamic color shift provides a texture to the environment which is further complimented by the illustration and animation at work. A certain character I came across in my demo seemed to be shaped by an ink blot and as he shrieked his form shook like a ripple in water, or rather like a leaf blower being taken to a small puddle. Trees lose and subsequently regain their shape which allows players to traverse atop them, or fall off, in the stroke of a brush. Every inch of Gris is seemingly dedicated to and rooted in the argument that video games are art — a notion I can’t dispute.
Building off its artistic inspirations, Gris lets its visuals and music do the talking. Quite literally, as an early scene shows a lone girl named Gris, the game’s namesake and protagonist, grasping at the ability to speak and express herself. We don’t know what Gris is doing in this world and during my time with the game, it was never explicitly stated. Gris brings to mind the ambiguous nature of abstract art that’s rife with the opportunity to make of it what you want, while also serving as a nod to the artful games that came before it like Journey. The comparison comes full circle once you see how similarly designed the protagonists of each game are, however it never felt derivative so much as it felt inspired.
Mechanically, Gris couldn’t be more different. Being a 2D platformer, there’s an emphasis on explicit puzzle solving by way of exploration and abilities. During my hands-on demo I had to seek out orbs of light, which traced a line through the world so that they were easy to find. Once collected, the orbs followed Gris around and often connected together to form ridges of light that helped me get from Point A to Point B. The other mechanic I was able to play with involved changing Gris’ shape to that of a giant block, making her impossible to move, which came in handy during an escape sequence near the end of the demo. Even during tense moments, Gris never wavers in its commitment to maintaining a relaxing style and tone, as it hinders players from dying in order to sidestep any frustration — even if a giant bird creature attempts to prey on them.
As I walked away from my station, which was the largest couch and television I’ve ever had entirely to myself, I couldn’t suppress the grin on my face. Rarely, if ever, had I seen such an elegant work on display and been afforded the chance to interact with it like I had. It’s a testament to the team at Nomada Studio that no part of Gris felt out of place and furthermore the game exists as a powerful testament to the fact that video games are indeed art.
Gris is set to release later this year on Nintendo Switch and PC.