Gast: The Greatest Little Ghost


Genre:   Adventure

Developer:    Idol FX

Publisher:    Mindscape

Released:   2002

PC Requirements:    Windows 95/98/2000/XP, PII 266 Mhz, 64 MB RAM, DirectX version 8.0 (on CD) DirectX compatible 3D graphic card, min. 4 MB RAM, Monitor 800 x 600 resolution, 16 bit color, DirectX compatible sound card, 8x CDROM-drive, 315 MB on hard disk, mouse, speakers




by Singer

Sighhhh… here we go again… an adventure game by a small development company in Europe, under-marketed and released to little or no acclaim, and never finding a publisher in North America.   We’ve certainly all heard that song before.

But wait!  There’s good news!  There’s still time for this one to find an audience, so let me don my mask and become champion of the underdog, defender of the adventure genre, and crusader for one of the most charming games you’ll ever get the opportunity to play – Gast: The Greatest Little Ghost.

When I first heard about Gast through the grapevine, I was under the impression that it was a children’s game.  Needless to say, I was immediately drawn to it.  Admittedly, that says more about my maturity level than the game, but let me assure you that this game is fun for ALL ages.  Play it WITH the tots, play it without them, or feel completely confident in letting them play it alone.  The overriding theme here is… play it!

As the story opens, we learn that the evil clown Beleseblob has turned what was once a joyous amusement park into a haunted and sinister shadow of its former self.   By stopping the clocktower that enchanted the park with laughter and merriment, and filling the park with his evil “henchmen” to scare away visitors, Beleseblob has created a macabre nightmare into which no one dares enter… except you.

You’ll assume the role of the title character, Gast, a cute little spectre with a dark cloak, giant eyes and endearing facial expressions.  Gast is the caretaker of the magic clock, so it’s our job to help him rid the park of the evil henchmen, confront the ruthless clown, and restore the park to its original glory. 

Gameplay isn’t entirely traditional, but nor will it bring any great surprises.  Gast is a third person game played entirely with the mouse, although not quite point and click.  Reminiscent of Sanitarium, Gast requires you to click and hold the (left) mouse button in order to move in the direction of the arrow cursor.  Some may consider this a nuisance, but it does give you more a sense of actually “controlling” the game, and interactivity is never a bad thing.

Camera angles will change periodically, so at times you’ll see Gast from the side, front, or back, while at other times from a ¾ overhead, isometric perspective, giving the game a semi-3D feel.  These changes can occasionally cause a little disorientation as you move from one screen to another, but they give the game a more cinematic feel than the constant fixed angle of most titles.  Artistry in gaming?  Hmmm…

The simple premise of the game is to collect “soul stars”.   As Gast wanders (floating, of course!) through the park, a wide array of clichéd baddies will attempt to scare him.  These include such schlock-monsters as a headless man, a mysterious tentacled creature, and a venus flytrap straight out of Little Shop of Horrors.  There is also the usual (if infinitely more flamboyant) assortment of creepy crawly critters like bats, rats, cats, and gnats (well, a FLEA actually, but close enough).  Oh, and a gargantuan spider.  I know how some of you love those so. 

Ultimately, you’ll want to dispose of each creature completely, by fair means or foul.  However, many of these henchies are hurting-on-the-inside types that request your help before they’ll leave, let you past, or follow you.   This is where the puzzles come in, as you’ll need to figure out how best to assist them (and then DEsist them).  Puzzles are almost all inventory based, and (remembering that this is a game with children in mind) Gast occasionally has a little “thought bubble” that offers clues to the items you’ll need (whether you’ve encountered them or not).  I know this may sound like sacrilege to the Walkthroughs are for Wimps club, but this game is about fun and atmosphere, not brain strain.

The rest of the interface is simple and clean, with the right mouse button pulling up the six-item inventory and options menu.  The one thing missing was a map, which would have really been beneficial.  Since the game is largely non-linear, you’ll spend much time having Gast hover-trekking through the park, and the layout can get more than a little confusing.  It’s probably worth it to take a few minutes to draw a little map your first time through.  I, of course, insisted on staying lost the entire time, so that’s always an option, if not a recommended one.

You cannot die in Gast – there are SOME advantages to being a ghost, after all.  Instead, you have “scare points”, which increase each time a henchman frightens you, or you fall victim to one of the assorted traps in the park (tumbling boulders, plummeting off cliffs, etc.)   These scare points can be counteracted by each star you collect, and by having Gast eat or drink (it’s a hoot watching Gast suck up some sneezy slime).  Although the accumulated scare points impact the length of the “ride” leading to the showdown with Beleseblob (we’re getting to that), this aspect of the game serves mostly as a personal side challenge, rather than having any real bearing on the outcome.

The graphics in the game are terrific.  The developers have created scenery and characters that manage to be eerie and foreboding, while at the same time retaining a stylized, cartoony flair.   Anyone that has seen The Nightmare Before Christmas will have a good idea of what I mean, and whether intentional or not, the Gast artists seem to have found more than a little inspiration from that movie.  The cutscenes dispersed throughout the game were less polished, but frequent enough to keep the story fresh.  For anyone who doesn’t have a 3D graphics card, it is possible to run the game through software rendering, and the results looked almost as good.

Moving from sight to sound, some of the voice acting is a little shaky, but c’mon… who’s complaining that a talking raven doesn’t sound realistic enough?   The background music is perfectly suited to the game’s mood, and the various sound effects like hooting owls and creaky doors all help to support the game’s tone.

Now, if Gast has a momentum-squelching “BUT”, here it is… Once you’ve collected enough soul stars, and disposed of as many henchmen as possible (and the more the better, as you’ll soon discover), it’s time to give Beleseblob the big adios.  To do that, however, involves undergoing a short sequence of up to THREE arcade activities.  The first will be a (literal) roller coaster ride where you must maneuver your cart to avoid flying objects, as well as any henchmen that you left remaining in the park.  For each collision, you’ll lose a star, and this is where your accumulated scare points will directly affect the length of your ride.  When you’ve managed to finesse your way through that challenge, you’ll then have to face those darn remaining henchmen again (if you left any, that is, but it’s likely you will), and dispose of them once and for all by throwing your precious stars at them.  Then, when only Gast is left standing (levitating?), it’s time to chuck your (by now) few remaining stars at Beleseblob himself, who taunts you but doesn’t seem to pose any threat.  For some reason, in separate attempts, I managed to take him down in one, two, AND three hits, so either the damage is random, or he has some soft spots I hit by luck.

If you’re howling in protest at the thought of arcade sequences, take a deeeep breath.  First of all, I already recommended having a kid nearby when you play this, and they will giddily accomplish the entire sequence blindfolded in less time than it takes you to read this.  Secondly, if you’re actually faced with the horrifying prospect of trying it yourself, it’s very easy.  Unlike many arcade events that truly reward fast reflexes, Gast favours patience.  If you don’t panic and take your time, you’ll see some EASILY recognizable patterns that will have you breezing through (just be sure to be thorough with your henchman extermination duties back at the park, but that’s most of the fun anyway).  For that matter, you’ll WANT to fail at least once just to see the final cutscene with a negative result. 

So no, the ease of the puzzles and the difficulty of the arcade sequences shouldn’t dampen anybody’s spirit (except a Beleseblob henchman’s).  The worst thing I can say about Gast is that it’s simply too darn SHORT!!  I finished the entire game in only a few hours, and that was taking my time.  HOWEVER… the developers were aware of this, and the game is designed to be played more than once.  Now, normally I despise repetition in games, but to facilitate a fresh gaming experience, Gast does what I wish EVERY game would do… offer multiple puzzle solutions!!  In fact, it is impossible to solve all of the game’s dilemmas in one go, as certain solutions will close off paths for other puzzles, so you’ll want to play through at least twice, and the self-imposed challenge the second time around to NOT repeat your original puzzle solutions greatly raises the complexity.  Toldja there was something for everyone here!

As I played Gast, I had the notion that I was experiencing a “Grim Fandango lite”… and from me that is high praise, indeed.  By no means is it EQUAL to that earlier classic, but the influence is clearly present.  Gast has style; it has character; it has energy… most of all, it has what I find many games lack – a true sense of adventure!  If it’s a kids’ game, call me a kid, because I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  If you’ve got children either living in or visiting your household, Gast should be a no-brainer, and even if you don’t, do yourself a favour and consider this one (you don’t have to tell anyone you played it; we’ll just keep it our little secret).

Final score:  80%

Played on:

Win XP

Pentium 4, 2 GHz

512 MB RAM

GeForce 4


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Please write to: Singer

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