GRIS’s slow gameplay has players walk the fine line between relaxation and boredom.
Over a period of five months, I would occasionally turn on GRIS and play it for 30 minutes or so to kill some time. I doubt I hit the five-hour mark by the time I completed it, but as far as dating the beginning and end of my playtime with GRIS, it strangely took me longer to beat than any other game this year. It never compelled me to come back to it the next day, and I am surprised I ended up finishing it at all. Upon reflection, I keep asking myself if I was just in the wrong frame of mind while playing it. I don’t think that was it. There are somber themes to GRIS, but if I am in a somber mood I typically don’t want to play a game that matches it. With many similarities to RiME, GRIS ends up being a novelty game that just plain isn’t good enough to warrant more than a single playthrough.
The best and most noticeable aspect to GRIS is in its visuals. Calling them “moving water colors” don’t do them justice. Vivid and detailed, colors fill in the outlines and they all flow within each other. It is bright, fluid and gorgeous, and as you get further into the game you will unlock more colors that splash into the meticulous artwork, only enhancing the impressive graphics that much more. GRIS is worth playing because of the visuals alone—they are unlike anything you’ve seen in a videogame.
In a way, these visuals are so incredible that I can’t help but wonder why GRIS isn’t an art film instead of a videogame. In my opinion, it would have worked better that way. The story of GRIS is mostly left to your interpretation, and I can easily picture it playing out on a big theater screen in front of an audience that would appreciate everything it presents. The main character wakes up in a dreamlike place, loses her voice, and the world underneath her begins to crumble and lose its color. “GRIS” is Spanish for “gray,” and the goal of the game is to direct this distraught girl through a dreamlike place to bring the lost colors back to this gray world, all while hopefully learning what is happening.
By the end, I had to come up with my own theory about the game’s story, because the only explanation GRIS offers is through metaphor and symbolism. There is no dialogue, so all you hear are the subtle sound effects and the gorgeous orchestral score (you unlock an important skill that makes a sound, but I won’t spoil it here). I ended up Googling the “meaning” of GRIS and found that I may have been on the right track, but I can’t say for sure. I also didn’t understand why a very important scene is hidden away unless you are able to track down all the secret items, because that scene helps explain more than anything else in the game.
Again, I would have loved to watch all this play out in an art film, but I can’t say I enjoyed playing GRIS all that much. GRIS is a 2D platform game where you wander through the strange setting while solving simple puzzles to keep moving forward. You will usually be running, jumping or swimming back and forth a lot in search of orbs that allow you to proceed to the next area. The girl moves very slowly, and what starts off as calming quickly becomes rather tedious. I tend to appreciate a slower game as long as I still feel like I’m challenged, relaxed or entertained in some way, but GRIS does little of that. It ends up making GRIS feel heavily-padded despite its already short length – five hours, tops. Because this back-and-forth navigation is so slow, there is an awkward contrast between the amazing visuals and the dull gameplay. Puzzles are typically very simple, aside from a couple clever ones that stumped me for a few minutes. Occasional checkpoints grant the girl a new ability which adds more layers to the puzzle-solving, but truthfully nothing changes that much.
I really wish I appreciated GRIS like so many others. I believe a lot of its appreciation comes from players whose personal life experiences parallel the metaphors that we see throughout the game. GRIS is a beautiful game, and for the right player, that beauty goes deeper than its art style and music. It just didn’t resonate with me in that way, and I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. Some people just want to play a fun videogame, and if that fun videogame instills strong emotions and new insights with its players, then that makes it all the better. Sadly, GRIS fails to hit all those notes due to its dull gameplay and frustratingly slow pace, and I don’t see myself ever returning to it.