Ghost Giant has all the warmth and wonder you’ve come to expect from VR storytelling. It’s got a twee diorama world of small miracles to explore, cutesy characters to fall in love with and even a handful of subversive themes to pick apart. It doesn’t take long to fall for these charms. But Zoink Games’ VR debut then goes an unexpected extra mile. It takes these elements and adds a secret ingredient to the mix: you.
Zoink mines virtual gold from deceptively simple concepts: companionship, kindness and, for the deeper crowd, our reliance on and manifestations of those themes in times of extreme distress. Ghost Giant is a thoughtful game, one that’s not afraid to tackle tough subjects in new ways. For that, it’s something I’ll cherish for a long time to come.
Rarely has it felt so good to simply help. Ghost Giant introduces us to Louis, a young kid from the fictional town of Sancourt. We meet him out by an old hangout spot where he’s quietly sobbing. His tears start to flow toward you and, before you know it, form two hands you control with PS Move controllers. After a flustered introduction, you become an unlikely problem-solving duo, charting a path toward Louis’ deeper troubles.
Ghost Giant first establishes bonds familiar to those that played Moss and Astro Bot. Micro fist bumps, constant eye-contact and friendly waves between you and your friend are just as potent as ever here. Louis himself is a wonderfully realized bit of work; at times he’s a peppy youngster that zips around with an enthusiasm that’s tough to keep up with. He’s joyfully voiced and often a pleasure to be around, uplifting the already feather-light world. The same is true of the rest of Sancourt’s inhabitants, which resemble something like an Animal Crossing cast with a touch of world-weariness. Three cool cats sit on a bridge and complain about the lack of art in town until you paint a giant burrito. A hard of hearing pelican locked in argument with a walrus keeps mishearing requests (“You collected kelp here?!”). It’s both ridiculous and delightful in equal measure.
In fact, just about every presentational aspect of Ghost Giant is a marvel in its own right. Each of the game’s 14 scenes is a miniature theatre production with stages cobbled together from nuts and bolts. Louis enters a house and you’ll have to pull a lever to rotate the building or outright lift its roof off to see what’s going on. Adorable little-big interactions are hidden in every corner, whether its dressing townspeople in hats you find in the environment or tossing a basketball into hidden giant hoops (which is sometimes an inexplicably difficult task). I’d be remiss not to mention the melancholic soundtrack, the soothing whispers of which still linger as I write.
These features are whimsy and memorable, though they hide Ghost Giant’s darker side. Zoink’s weird and wonderful work is a Trojan Horse disguising a bold take on depression and neglect, one depicted from angles not always considered. Louis may be an animal, but the developer’s sensitive handling of these subjects gives him remarkable humanity. He’s thrust into a reality in which he’s inescapably out of his depth, driven by fear and false hope. Ghost Giant is not a game about depression, it’s a game about its wider impacts on the ones we love and the way we cope with that. It uses scale, intimacy and lighting to rawly communicate the crushing weight of these topics and there’s heartbreaking believability in the way Louis hides his situation from his friends.
More appropriately, though, it gives your interactions with Louis tangible weight. I wanted to pet Quill and fist-bump Astro, but I found myself desperate to comfort Louis, to be there for him. You seize every opportunity to lead his mind elsewhere, be it getting him to recount family stories as you poke around his home or, in one particularly splendid sequence, giving him a ride on a cloud. These are instances with an alarming sense of responsibility and privilege. Conjuring such complexity is Zoink’s greatest achievement and it’s what I’ll carry with me moving on from Ghost Giant.
With all this narrative intricacy, it’s easy to forget that this is, in fact, a puzzle game. Fortunately, it’s a pretty good one. Challenges are at their best when they’re interwoven with the story. At one point you start to make it rain by clashing clouds together in an awesome show of might. In another I tickled a coughing clam to reveal the prize that he was choking on.
If anything, Ghost Giants puzzle’s are more a means of justifying its existence as a VR ‘game’ more than they are a reason to buy it, though. They’re not always as elegant as the world and story around you. Early on Louis is looking for a way to disguise himself before heading from his farm into town. I looked around in search of a scarecrow I could undress to help out, but found none. Instead, a rat ran out of a nearby building wearing a fake hat and beard. You’re usually meant to scratch your head during the puzzle, not after. Other levels are just a few steps beyond your logical thinking and slow you down for longer than you’d like.
Ghost Giant feels significant. Not just in its assured navigation of heavy subject matter, but in the way those themes bleed out into the wider world and the interactions you share with Louis. It’s an experience in which emotional weight guides your each and every action, giving you reason to act beyond a simple state of failing and succeeding. It is at times delightful and at others unflinching, with moments of VR purity that tear down the barrier between you and your companion. If you want a look at where the true power of VR lies, look no further than Ghost Giant.
Ghost Giant will be available on PSVR on April 16th. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.