Ghost Giant Review: Holding Hands
Ben Sheene / May 23rd, 2019 No Comments
Over the course of its dozen scenes, Ghost Giant brings a story of friendship to life. All told in the confines of virtual reality, players reach into the world to touch and manipulate, tightening the threads between the titular Ghost and a young boy named Louis.
This is a game bursting at the seams with creativity as each scene slowly unfolds with deeper purpose. To play Ghost Giant is to get wrapped up in a concise, whimsical tale that chooses precise moments for emotional impact. Though it is occasionally hindered by the PlayStation VR‘s shortcomings, players would do well not to miss out.
Ghost of a Tale
Ghost Giant opens with Louis, a young fox, weeping uncontrollably. The player’s view is shrouded in dark except for the invisible spotlight illuminating Louis. His tears fall into the dark water in front of him, forming a turquoise spectral trail through the water to where players’ bodies are. Upon looking down, two glowing three-fingered hands begin to form.
Using the two PlayStation Move controllers, players can wave their arms around with 1:1 accuracy. Louis remains stationary until the player decides to press a button and touch him. Looking up, Louis remarks in fear that he sees a giant ghost and hides behind a bush. Naturally, players take a hand and rattle the bush, causing Louis to retreat behind some large rocks.
It was after grabbing at the large rocks that I ran into my first limitation with Ghost Giant. Without cover, Louis cowers in fear with his head buried in his arms. I knew that I was meant to reach out and touch him but my ghostly arms wouldn’t stretch far enough. Confused, I began to madly wave my arms around the scene and at one point grabbed a life preserver hanging on a cliff and threw it at Louis thinking that was how I was meant to rouse him.
It took a quick reset to the main menu and a moment of clarity before I realized that the issue was mostly hardware related. The PSVR for all its ease of use does have certain limitations, one of these being its tracking. While Ghost Giant prefaces gameplay by asking players to line up the ghost’s viewpoint with my line of sight, I started the opening of the game in an incorrect position. By holding down the start button on a Move controller, the PSVR will resync its position in the game and right the ship where it should be. Throughout my time with Ghost Giant, this issue persevered but remained easy to rectify. After the initial confusion, I proceeded to rescue Louis with that life preserver after he fell from his tree house.
Developer Zoink Games has carved out a distinct niche since breaking out with their comedic puzzler Stick it to the Man! The humor and art style used in that game were unmistakable and continued until Fe, an emotional title with multiple narrative goals. Ghost Giant continues that thread but also acts as a more direct story with easier to define gameplay, making it equally unique.
The charm and character present in Ghost Giant is apparent from the beginning. A lightheartedness seeps through most of the dialog and story and never bogs down players emotionally. Before becoming acclimated to the sudden appearance of a ghost, Louis talks to himself with uncertainty and cracks jokes.
Zoink takes its playfulness very seriously as sight gags, physical comedy, and whimsical scenarios occur in a sensible way. Shortly into the game players meet a trio of hipster cats–in case you didn’t realize, Ghost Giant‘s cast are anthropomorphic animals–who refuse to let Louis pass a bridge because they are too busy being cool and making cheeky observations about the world. To pass, the ghost needs to pick up a paintbrush and dip it in colors around the scene to paint a picture of a smiling hot dog. Of course the cats think it is an avant-garde masterpiece.
While the silliness may feel dated to an older audience, I got a good laugh out of moments like these. Whether it wants to admit it or not, Ghost Giant is set in some alternate reality of a French-speaking country. Names and titles are French and spoken with the appropriate accent; a few quips like “ma cherie” are thrown in for good measure. Coupled with an accordion-laden soundtrack ripped straight from Ratatouille, it’s nearly impossible not to be drawn into Ghost Giant‘s fiction.
The bouncy day-to-day lives of these characters are infectious in their simplicity and their quirks. Louis lives on a farm where sunflowers grow that are three times his height. A Lion goes from selling rotten produce in town to candies. Despite the fact that both the player and the ghost are at arm’s length from this world, it’s never not inviting.
Though I think it’s best to keep most of the game’s plot under wraps, I will say that players progress from casually helping Louis with chores to aiding him in getting sunflower seeds for his farm. Zoink peppers the narrative with questions but only trickles out answers when they make sense. The reason for Louis’ tears will be given, obviously. Despite the game’s 4-5 hour length, it introduces enough subplots to make nearly every piece feel cohesive.
For the duration of Ghost Giant players watch Louis’ world from a set distance and only interact with Louis and items that have some kind of brass or gold coloring on them. For a game in VR, this is simple enough to grasp and very readable on screen.
Using last year’s Moss as a reference, each scene in Ghost Giant acts as a large diorama where its characters move in, around, and out view. Players can move their head and look around the world and use the X and O buttons to rotate their view at 90 degree angles. At Louis’ farm, trees and hills can be seen far into the distance while in town a city skyline dots the background.
Players are floating above a lived-in world that reminds me of a Richard Scarry book or Tearaway and it’s easy enough to sit around in it for moments at a time just observing. Much like Tearaway, the world of Ghost Giant feel constructed out of various materials that often bend to the will of the player. The top of a tree might be plucked off to reveal a collectible or a building will sprout a lever allowing it to be rotated to reveal a conversation between two characters.
Most scenes contain a handful of puzzles that players will have to solve to help Louis progress to his next goal. Only twice was I mildly stumped as to a solution and that’s because I didn’t notice an object I needed to grab. Rather than being difficult, Zoink gets creative in its puzzles and executing them. Players will often work with entire chunks of a scene that may require manipulation of both Move controllers. Players will likely feel more proud of the smile across their face watching a solution unfold rather than the satisfaction of figuring out what to do.
Ghost Giant is really only limited by the PSVR’s capabilities. The headset’s screen quality does not dampen how gorgeous the game looks. The motion controls can be a bit finicky as a result of the tracking being off and the Move controllers not being the best sensors. This becomes most apparent when players are required to throw an object at a target and there’s not a good way to judge speed and accuracy.
The only true issue I encountered in Ghost Giant were the times I had to reset the PSVR’s tracking to reposition myself in a scene so the ghost could grab an object or touch Louis. Once I had to reset a scene completely because an object I needed fell into the virtual water and never popped back into its original resting place. It was a frustrating instance but never lessened my enthusiasm for working through the story.
Ultimately, Ghost Giant‘s strength lies in the subtle and not so subtle ways it handles friendship and emotional support. As simple as slapping and bumping Louis’ fist as the ghost was, it was a cute moment that felt earned. Real or imagined, the ghost is a wonderful tool to make players feel like a part of a character’s life and in virtual reality, that kind of immersion is never not wonderful.
Ghost Giant was reviewed using a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Ghost Giant is available at North American retailers including Amazon, GameStop and Best Buy for $29.99.
tags: Ghost Giant , Ghost Giant review , Perp Games , playstation 4 , PlayStation VR , PSVR , review