When Devolver Digital invited us to a game preview-slash-art gallery event earlier this month, we knew just one thing: The publisher would be showing off a game called Gris for the first time, teased only with a devastating illustration of a crying woman.
That painting not only perfectly sets the tone for Gris, the first game from the newcomers at Nomada Studio, but it also almost serves as a screenshot from the project. Gris, more than any other game in a long time, is a painting in motion; it is a story told only through emotive imagery, conveyed through color and music.
Watching the opening of the game makes that clear from the start. (The trailer above helps, too.) A woman singing named Gris, who stars in that first image, soon loses her voice because of mysterious forces and is sent into a world of swirling clouds, crumbling buildings and abundant platforms. To return to where she’s from, Gris accumulates additional abilities that live inside her dress made of “sorrow” to continue forward.
What’s remarkable is that from that fluid cutscene, reminiscent of animated films based directly on illustrations or paintings, the game begins. It’s a seamless transition into a playable platformer, and it kicks things off with a clear burst of unique inspiration.
“We’re really seeing video games as a form of art,” Roger Mendoza, co-founder of the Spain-based Nomada Studio, told Polygon. “We don’t think there’s so [many] differences between movies and art. The same way that you see movies about everything, there should be games about everything.”
And in this case, games borrowing from everything — from other games to film to abstract artwork. Mendoza compared Gris’ gameplay to that of adventure games with defined aesthetics like Ori and the Blind Forest and Journey. He also said that the team looked at sculptures and paintings just as much, and the majority of the team is composed of artists, not traditional programmers.
That explains why Gris feels so intimate, so personal. This is not to say it’s not challenging; using those abilities, like a dash and one where Gris turns into a rock to keep herself weighted down, adds intricacies to the gameplay. There are also collectibles to be found, and making sense of the three-hour story presents a challenge of its own.
Yet the intention, Mendoza said, is for players to focus on the changing colors of the world — as well as the architecture, the sound design and the combining styles.
“You start pretty much with nothing and then you see her growing and learning from her surroundings and dealing with the whole thing,” he said. “At the end you see all the colors and the world changes.
“You’ve grown up, and the game grows with you.”
Gris is due this December on Nintendo Switch and Windows PC.