This Gris Follow-Up Has Big Last Guardian Vibes And Will Definitely Make Me Cry

This Gris Follow-Up Has Big Last Guardian Vibes And Will Definitely Make Me Cry

When the action-adventure game Neva was first revealed a year ago with a trailer that included the immediate emotional death of a large wolf-like creature, I knew this game would be a tearjerker. That isn’t surprising given developer Nomada Studios’ track record. Its first game, 2018’s emotional platformer Gris, required a box of tissues handy at all times. So I thought I would be prepared for the emotional weight of Neva during my hands-on demo at the Tribeca Film Festival’s official games selection. Turns out I wasn’t at all.

Upon starting the demo, I was confronted with the game’s reveal trailer once again. Once the familiar story plays out, the screen goes black for a second, and when it comes back, I’m presented with a gorgeous tableau of a lush green forest. At the center of this picturesque view is the game’s protagonist and a wolf cub. As the protagonist, a young woman named Alba, I wake up the cub, which the game reveals to me is the titular Neva. And that’s when I immediately started to get worried. I am not ready for whatever Nomada has planned for this story. Something about making the cub the namesake of the game makes me worried I’m gonna watch a wolf die at the beginning and end of the emotional experience.

Image: Devolver Digital

Once I regain my composure, I first take a second to appreciate the game’s stunning color palette. The forest is vibrant and full of dimension —it’s lush, full of varying shades of green that speak to the complex and diverse beauty found in nature. Specks of reds, blues, oranges, yellows, and purples identify flowers growing along the paths. As in Gris, Neva is a 2D platformer — I walked from left to right and was continuously presented with somehow more gorgeous vistas than the last. Lush forest becomes a cascading lake filled with mossy outcroppings of rock, which then opens up into a stunning plateau of yellow flowers beneath a stark blue sky and a mountain in the distance. Along the way, Alba and Neva run into tons of wildlife. I take a second to stop and appreciate the majestic beauty of a lone deer and a sounder of wild boar. Comparisons to Studio Ghibli’s films, especially Princess Mononoke, are apt here.

Platforming feels smooth, which isn’t too surprising given how good Gris felt. The double jump (perhaps the standard-bearer for how to judge a platformer) has a wonderful height and tactile feel to it. Thrust into the first chapter of the game, titled Summer, I am given little guidance and just wander from screen to screen as Alba and Neva follow behind. There is a youthful energy to Neva’s actions that really communicates the childishness of the character. Neva yaps or gets distracted by flowers or butterflies, jumping in the air trying to catch them. I found myself having to take it slow and call out to Neva to encourage the rambunctious pup to get a move on. Alas Neva doesn’t have a double jump, and when I carelessly leap across a large gap only to watch Neva leap after me and fall to the ground underneath my ledge I gasped and felt more than a little guilty for how uncaring I had been. The game then teaches me to pet Neva (because of course you can pet the wolf) to comfort them. I go back, face the ledge again, call out to Neva, and then offer copious pets once they cross successfully.

Image: Devolver Digital

Even with its simple two-button interface, I got serious The Last Guardian vibes from Neva. Team Ico’s 2016 game centered around the relationship between a boy and a large creature named Trico, but the mechanics let the player build a real bond with the creature and establish a mutual respect between them due to the cooperation required to progress through the game. Of course, The Last Guardian then used that bond between the player and Trico to tell one of the most emotional stories in gaming. I shudder at having to make the comparison between Neva and The Last Guardian because, again, I am very worried about the well-being of Alba and Neva.

Though also a platformer, Neva adds a combat feature that Gris did not have. The world Alba and Neva navigate isn’t safe, as nature is being threatened by a mysterious dark force which appears as dark black and gray coloring seeping into the world or attacking the player in the form of spikes and shadowy creatures. Again, there are shades of the illness in Princess Mononoke here. In Gris, you were bringing color back into the world; In Neva, it seems the color is being sucked out of it. Very ominous.

Image: Devolver Digital

And the combat itself feels good if not extremely complex. You slash at foes with a sword and platform to avoid attacks. It’s a simple loop but one that feels effective. It also adds to the sense that this world has more at stake than the emotional meditative journey of Gris. It’s a fascinating twist on Nomada’s house style that works well in the short demo I had with it.

I came away from my time with Neva dreading its release, which is set for sometime this year. But that’s only because I know I’m going to want to play the complete story of Neva and Alba even if I don’t think I’ll be emotionally prepared for what’s to come. Time to stock up on the tissues.

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