The Surprising Colors of Grey

Meg Stivison
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Meg's blog, Simpsons Paradox.
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grey raindowGrey, from Kevin Does Art, is a little platformer in a grey world. I’m not great at platformers, well, actually, that’s an understatement, but I tried to overlook my general dislike of platformers when I checked out this game for my students.

The game opens in a sad grey world, which is one of my favorite settings. You’re a little blocky dude, and your little blocky friend with long hair is sad. The game description says that you’re a guy and this friend is your girlfriend, but there’s no dialogue or in-game description to clarify this, so I just imagined her as a sad friend. I liked this interpretation. Save the world from certain doom is a pretty common game story, so go cheer up your buddy made a pretty engaging game hook.

The protag waves at her a couple times, but she doesn’t react. Actually, she doesn’t react to anything, and I’m so bad at platformers that when my friend wouldn’t respond to my actions, I thought I didn’t understand the controls. Then a compass of colored directions appears, which is actually telling you how to solve the puzzle. Of course, I went jumping and running off towards a color, because the world is grey.

I expected to have a lot of trouble with this platform game, but it was more using platforms and jumping as a method to explore, rather than an exercise in timing and tapping buttons. In each direction, there’s a small colorful item, like a blue necklace or a green shamrock, and of course, I picked it up. I’m an adventure gamer, I pick up everything that’s not locked down. Sometimes I get a bobby pin and pick the lock and then I pick up the item. Moving on.

grey greenI thought my sad friend would cheer up when I brought her gifts but she didn’t react. This time, I didn’t think I was doing it wrong, because the world reacted. When I gave her the shamrock, all the grass and trees in the world turned green. With the blue necklace, the gray waters turned blue.

The protag can only hold one item at once, so there’s no speedy playthrough by grabbing everything in one circular path, but that meant that I kept exploring a slowly-changing world. Each new color made the world more vibrant and alive, even ones like purple or orange that I expected to be accent colors. It made my landmarks (see previous re: not good at platformers) harder to identify, and made the same old path seem new.

After bringing the last gift, and fulling coloring the world, the sad girl finally reacted. I was… not prepared for this. With the last color, the girl stands up, the protag fades away, and the girl goes on with her life. The animation is open to interpretation, but… I think he’s dead.

Until this point, I’d seen Grey as a minimalist indie platformer about adding colors to a gameworld. The gifts, which seemed like easy-to-draw representations of each color, suddenly seemed terribly sad. A teddy bear, a piece of candy. Actually, didn’t I see a gravestone when I was picking that flower? I realized the sad-girlfriend character was more of a grieving child, retrieving her memories and coming out of a depression, and it was not at all what I expected from a simple platformer.

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