Visually Impaired Review – Gris

Christy Smith9 minute read

Gris occupies a space of gaming that has thoroughly captured my heart and imagination. The game has you playing as a character (who is normally gendered as female but it isn’t necessary) who has experienced some sort of trauma or tumultuous event. It isn’t specified. It is very open to interpretation. The art is gorgeous as you work to regain color in the world and heal from your ordeal. The music is a significant part of the experience. It is an amazing game that has the potential to engage gamers on a level that most games cannot. It communicates without language, yet it is one of the most powerful gaming experiences… if only I could see it.

I am reviewing the Switch version of this game. The game is also available for iPhone, Mac, PC, and PS4.

I would normally not review a game unless I had beaten it or reached some similar level of completion and familiarity. I have not beaten this game. I got about two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through and couldn’t continue in a way that was meaningful to me. So know that there are portions of the game I cannot speak to because I haven’t played them.

Note: This review will contain mild spoilers. But I’ll tell you right now that my recommendation is that you should not play this game unless you’ve got 20/80 or better. However, your vision may be such that you think you can manage it. I encourage you to read on, but I think the only way to help you decide if you want to play this, if you’ve got worse than 20/80, is to tell you what you’re going to encounter and why I think it’s so difficult to work with.

About me and my play style: I have albinism. My visual acuity fluctuates between 20/100 and 20/500 depending on if I’m wearing contacts and how tired I am. I have color vision, but no depth perception. I also deal with eyestrain if I have to focus too precisely for too long. I primarily play in handheld mode so I can hold the screen closer. I tend to play on my long commute with no sound because I need to keep my ears free to listen for my stop to be announced.

Visual Characteristics 1/6

(Contrast, Lighting, Tracking, Clutter)

The visuals are beautiful… when you can see them. Let me take this category by category.

Contrast in some sections is fine. I’d say the first half of the game is better. The watercolor style does not lend itself to great contrast, but some sections are… fine. Other sections are so laughably terrible that it’s unplayable. Basically, once you hit the underwater sections, you’re sunk. (Sorry, not sorry.)

Lighting isn’t very remarkable, but could be used to improve the game. If the lighting were brighter, it might enhance the contrast.

Tracking is…. Difficult. I normally have very good visual tracking skills, even better than some fully sighted folks I know (because I’ve had to practice for years and really focus on it), and there were so many times I couldn’t find my character. If the character were only bigger or had an option to add a distinctive colored hairdo or outfit… But as it is, unless your visual tracking skills are outstanding, you’re going to struggle.

Clutter is also a significant issue. While the visuals are minimalistic… The rubble that dominates the landscape is hard to navigate. There are portions where you have to find little floating red flappy things (butterflies? Birds?) to know where to jump. And it can be really hard to see these flappy red things among the rubble. The red is not bright, and if you struggle with colors at all, the color will not be very helpful. Additionally, there are multiple parts of the game where your character is partially obscured by objects in the foreground.

Accessibility Features 0/6

There are none. I’m very disappointed and slightly angry, and I can’t come up with much else to say about that.

The way I see it, the devs could have EASILY added a function to zoom in that would have fixed nearly all of the issues I have with this game. The game zooms in and out depending on the screen and the puzzle that you are on. Some puzzles involve larger areas, and some are smaller. I understand that having a zoom function would mean that sometimes puzzle elements are offscreen. However, I think this is a perfectly reasonable tradeoff. Especially for ZoomText users who are more than used to having to move a magnifier window around their desktop, it would be essentially the same thing. Vibrations and sounds could be used to alert folks that there were necessary elements out of frame.

Assist Modes 1/6

Also none. The only reason I’m giving this a point is you have no timer and you can try things as many times as it takes to get them done. Not that that will help you if you can’t see it to begin with.

Non Visual Cues 1/6

Rumble is occasionally used, though nowhere near all of the places where it should be. The music helps tell you that you’ve entered different portions of the stage. However, these nonvisual cues are ties to visual cues. The rumble and music on their own will not help you figure out much of anything. As this game is a puzzle-platformer, if you can’t figure out the puzzles… you’re not going to get anywhere.

Decent Fonts 0/6

There is very little text, but what there is — is terrible. It’s thin, light, and IT’S ONLY ON SCREEN FOR A HALF A SECOND AT A TIME. Okay. Deep breath. Exhale. There are only two or three times where text comes on screen to instruct you on new mechanics. And the font is absolutely miniscule. You do not have a chance to use the built-in zoom function because it only pops up when you are in a certain location.

Necessity of Text 5/6

Technically, I suppose you could figure out the control mechanics without the text. You could Google it. However, I dislike having to look up a walkthrough in order to complete the most integral parts of the game, especially this game, where the game is so much about the personal journey. If the other visual cues were easier to see, then I would be more okay with having to figure out the controls through trial and error.

Handheld Play 2/6

There are no problems per se with handheld play. I have two complaints. One… The controls make my thumb trip over the right thumbstick, and you can’t remap the controls. Second… everything is too darn small. I got my fully sighted partner to try it, and even they had trouble playing on the Switch screen. We put it on the TV to see if that would help. It didn’t really. Everything was still tiny, though it was better than the Switch screen. When the game was on the TV, though, I became motion-sick after only about ten or fifteen minutes. This may not affect you, but because I had to focus so minutely on the character, I think my nystagmus went haywire. If you aren’t prone to motion issues, playing on a TV may help you.

Level of Precision Required 3/6

There aren’t many tight platforming sections. The focus is more on the puzzles and less on the platforming. There are a few timing sequences with disappearing and reappearing platforms, but since you can try as many times as you need, the precision wasn’t too much of an issue.

The sections with the stupid red flappy butterfly things are problematic. You both have to hit the red flappy things at the right time, and also in the right hitbox. When you can barely see the darn things to begin with, it’s darn near impossible. Not to mention that the instructions pop up for half a second, so you’re distracted trying to read text that is wayyy too small. I would have rated the precision as a 4/6, but I took off an extra point for the first red flappy moment because it made me that mad.

Controls 4/6

The controls are responsive, if somewhat frustratingly located. I’m firmly in team A/X for the primary buttons, but this game uses B and Y, pushing your thumb further down into the analog stick. It’s definitely doable, but without the ability to remap the controls, it was occasionally frustrating… on top of everything else.

Recommendation for visual skills needed for enjoyment

It really hurts me to say, but I’m going to say unless you can see well enough to get a driver’s license… without a bioptic… you’re probably not going to like this game. You’re probably going to get about half to two-thirds of the way through and then be unable to continue on your own. For weeks, I’ve been trying to think of ways to make this game accessible, and the thing I’ve kept coming back to is this. You will feel like you are missing things visually even when you aren’t. Even when I had all of the visual skills needed to play the game, I felt as though I didn’t because I could not recognize which objects could be interacted with. I couldn’t recognize which things were important and which weren’t.

Other visually impaired folks might relate to me on this. When I go somewhere new, I can usually find the door on my own; however I am very bad at telling if the door I find is the correct door. I can tell it’s a door, but I can’t see all of the context around it to tell if it’s the door. A maintenance door looks the same to me as the official entry door. I have to focus too closely to identify the doorknob, that I can’t tell if there is a welcome sign, doormat, or other markers. Gris felt like that. I always felt out of place, even when I was technically capable of the task. I cannot recommend that experience.

Overall, I think Gris is a really important game, and I am kinda heartbroken that I can’t play it. Blind and visually impaired folks experience trauma just like sighted folks. Statistically, there are a lot of traumas we are more likely to experience. And yet, we cannot access this leap forward in recognition of trauma. The early portions of this game had me in tears. It is so beautiful and metaphorical. I felt like the game really understood something personal that few others do. That’s why I’m so upset that this game isn’t accessible.

If you want to ignore me and play this game anyway, here are my ideas about how you can do that:

I recommend pulling up a walkthrough. You can probably get through about the first half on your own, depending on your vision, though I’d guess that you could probably squeak by with 20/800 for the first half if your tracking skills are very good. Because there aren’t traditional levels, finding a written walkthrough can be difficult unless you follow the walkthrough the whole way through.

Playing with a sighted buddy who could take over and let you watch for the more difficult portions might be a strategy. My recommendations for this would be to start out with your buddy from the very beginning so that they get a feel for the game and the controls from the beginning. Passing the controller to my girlfriend partway through the game wasn’t great for her because she had to learn the puzzle style all at once, so she really wasn’t too much help.

I can’t speak to whether the computer versions would work with ZoomText or WindowsZoom (cringe), but that might be an avenue worth exploring.

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Christy Smith is a visually impaired gamer whose main goal in life is to snag a seat on the metro instead of having to stand so that she can play Switch on her commute. She/her/hers or They/them/theirs

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