– Gris is a visual masterpiece. It’s a living watercolor illustration that explores the complex themes of loss and grief through a visually arresting world and affecting orchestral score. But when compared to a game like Celeste, it’s basic level design and compounding minor frustrations make its exceptionally qualities feel only skin deep. (slow orchestra music) Gris’s story follows a heartbroken young woman and is told through symbolism, rather than dialogue. Like a painting in an art gallery or an art house film, Gris leaves itself open to interpretation. Its story may be obtuse, but its animation, world design, and visual effects are immediately impressive and absorbing. There’s a focus on symmetry and simple, clean design.The protagonist is hand-animated, and her transformations into different forms display a mastery of 2D animation. As you move through the different stages, blotches of watercolor spread across the screen, painting the gray world. The orchestral score compliments these changes in mood, and the first time I guided the unnamed protagonist off a cliff, it took my breath away. The stage design was so enthralling, I’d often stop just to look at what was on screen. (slow orchestral music) Levels initially appear complicated, but each follows the same basic layout. A linear road eventually leads to a number of branching paths, and within each is a key collectible. Nabbing these is usually straightforward light platforming or environmental puzzle-solving challenge, and they unlock an ability or way forward. Each world comes with a new ability. One allows you to turn into a heavy block to walk through strong winds and destroy broken floor tiles, and each subsequent world factors in the proceeding ability in some interesting ways.One of the final worlds introduces a new element that builds on the idea of symmetry, and it makes for one of the most gorgeous looking 2D levels in recent memory. Sadly, it’s confusing to move through, and the way to progress isn’t always clear. Gris is best played in one four to five hour sitting, but I found certain stretches to be a real chore. The light line work and subtle coloring of backgrounds and characters may be a visual feast, but several times I found myself stuck on a puzzle as I couldn’t distinguish the white lines that denote a platform from the background. Other areas simply lacked a consistent rule. One lightly colored pile on would let me pass behind it while its identical neighbor would stop me in my tracks. These issues are individually minor, but start to add up, as exploration is the main means of interacting with the stages. (slow orchestral music) There’s not much of a reason to replay Gris. I would’ve loved the ability to return to earlier stages with new abilities simply to move through them with more options, but after each level is finished, it’s blocked off and accessible only from the chapter menu screen.Choose it and you’re stripped of any new abilities, making replaying levels just that. Everything is reset except for the collectible mementos. The larger issue is that Gris’s platforming and puzzles are overly simple. Its levels are linear to a fault, even when they give you the option to explore in any direction. Simplicity isn’t itself a bad thing, especially when done elegantly, but in Gris’s case, it makes exploring its vast landscapes tedious and repetitive. (slow orchestra music) Gris is, at times, a meditative, affecting exploration of complex emotions that uses its levels as a canvas for some of the most beautiful visual design in any platformer backed by a fantastic score. At others, it’s a maddeningly simple yet confusing game that lets its artistic ambitions run roughshod over its gameplay. For more indie games, check out our reviews of Return of the Obra Dinn, Celeste, and Donut County, and for everything else, stick with IGN.(slow orchestra music) .