How game developers approach the graphical limitations of virtual reality can be interesting. The GPU demands of VR necessitates the need to turn away from photo realism to another artistic choice. When you begin Zoink Games’s title Ghost Giant, you find yourself in a carefully crafted world of cardboard and paper nailed together into a vibrant world.
The game begins with the anthropomorphic cat Louis crying into a pond, his tears glowing on the surface of the water, the glow collecting into your plump, three-fingered hands. He sees you and reacts with surprise, hiding his face from you in fear.
Pressing the center Move button your hand can take on a pointing gesture and you poke him with your index finger. Louis freaks out realizing that you are real, and hides behind a large rock. With the Move’s trigger button you make a pinching gesture and so you grab the rocks out of the way, which shocks him more. A few more interactions, and he runs from the forest to the family farm.
Once you follow Louis there, the player, as the Ghost Giant or so he names you, begins a relationship with Louis. Louis is a talker, constantly telling you things and asking for things. He jokes that you never talk back. Given his ongoing discourse with you, I found myself nodding and waving in response. Even talking back. I don’t believe the game picked up on it, but according to the exec from the game’s publisher Thunderful, the game will interpret some of your responses at certain times.
Your relationship with Louis is also built on action. As a ginormous specter, you begin to help Louis work the farm, deal with obstacles, and continue the story of this particular day in his life. Other characters can’t seem to see you, as you interact with the cardboard objects around you directly or via their suddenly appearing brass knobs, for you to grab with your floaty ghost hands.
I am grabbing wilting flowers and pulling them from the farm’s fields. I am lifting a car to put on a hill, so it will get started. I am turning a brass crank incongruously sticking out of a cardboard hill to rotate a bridge. I am blowing with my actual mouth, as picked up by the PSVR mic, to gust wind at some birds so they fly away and out of Louis’s path.
There have been a number of games where the player has a presence in the world as a larger-than-life figure,such as platformer Astro Bot Rescue Mission or adventure game Moss. You are inside this miniature world that you can look around at, rather than the typical first-person POV of most VR games. This choice feels especially effective for a game where you interact with objects in the world.
The game’s colorful graphics present a hand-crafted world. It feels like something a child may have made, perhaps a whole class of kids at school putting on a puppet show. The scenery and the objects are made of corrugated cardboard and painted paper. You can see the insides of the cardboard, the folds of brown paper giving it rigidity. You can see layers of paper pasted on top of one another adding texture to the ground or the sides of buildings. Nails keeping the cardboard together are also visible. It gives it a style reminiscent of Sony’s titles Little Big Planet or Tearaway.
The puzzle gameplay of Ghost Giant does feels somewhat old-fashioned, but coupled with the crafty art of the game, results in an experience with a wholesome charm. You want to help this feline boy. You want to grab cardboard things by their knobs and do what needs to get done. You want to help a boy in distress, and thus learn about his life. Why was Louis crying? Who is this old friend he mentions? And where is his mother?
Besides the main puzzles of the game, there are small secrets in each scene to find. Hidden amongst the colorful and busy backgrounds, there are hiding characters to find, and little toys to interact with–like a pinwheel to blow on or a basketball to throw into a hoop. This game just may be a Trophy hunter’s dream.
I played three “scenes” from the game over the course of 20+ minutes, which is just part of the four to six hours that the game is expected to last, according to the exec at my demo. We will have to wait and see if the puzzles evolve enough to remain engrossing, or if the story and dialogue remains gripping for hours.
With “giant” gameplay via object puzzles, and handmade graphics in the immersive medium of VR, Ghost Giant feels like a familiar and comfortable world you want to stay in, so you can help your friend Louis.
Ghost Giant will be released on April 16th.