Whew. What a ride this game has taken just to get reviewed. For those of you unfamiliar with the history of this game, The Last Guardian began development in 2007, with it’s original announcement at E3 2009 and planned for a 2011 release. It actually came out this month, December 2016. So what the heck happened? And can a game that was in development for 9 years really stand the test of time?
We’ll start with the pros and cons of The Last Guardian. First, given that this game was first developed on Playstation 3 hardware and the developers of this game last released a game in 2005 for the Playstation 2, there are some parts that feel extremely dated. Initially I thought when moving the boy, our main character, that his movements were really spastic. Just pushing the stick ever so slightly would get the boy to go careening as fast as possible in whatever direction you were pointing. I do seem to remember that with Shadow of the Colossus that the controls felt different from anything I had played up to that point, but after playing The Last Guardian for several hours, I seemly gave up on this gripe. In short, I learned to live with it. Jumping felt the same from time to time; just getting to a ledge would cause the boy to run through his, “please don’t run me off a cliff” animation which at least made it easier to jump from platform to platform. Getting on top of Trico himself was generally difficult. Sometimes the erratic behavior of Trico would make it impossible to climb to the crook of his back, basically the main place to stay other than Trico’s head.
This then takes us to the camera. The camera sometimes was completely in the wrong place. I’d climb onto Trico’s back and find that the camera would invert or not know where I was as we passed an open gate. Was it planned for me to always be on Trico’s back? Or am I suppose to walk through that open gate as the boy? Honestly, it’s a little weird to see camera issues like this on a PS4 title. That being said, often times the camera can create some beautifully cinematic moments and being in control of that allows for some pretty cool moments too.
Lastly in the gameplay department are the commands you issue to Trico. Oh boy, what can I say about this part without sounding mean, well, you know when you tell your dog not to beg, or to stop misbehaving in general? Well, that’s how Trico feels sometimes, he feels like a disobedient dog that skipped his doggy training classes. When it does work, you can get Trico to jump from pillar to pillar all nimbly bimbly, but I often found myself pressing the wrong key combination and screwing the whole sequence up. Pressing R1 and a direction gets Trico to go a specific direction, pressing R1 and Triangle gets him to jump. What If I want Trico to go there and then jump? Woh, wooh one request at a time there buddy. The commands portion felt a little drawn out to be honest, but maybe this was a component to make the game run a little longer. Overall the gameplay did feel a little dated compared to current games, but gameplay aside, there are truly some awesome and heartwarming moments in this game that I have never experienced playing a video game.
Now I won’t give away the complete plot to this game but I’ll give you the general ‘gist without ruining it for you. The main character, the boy, (who also has no name in classic Team Ico fashion) awakes in a cave with strange tattoos all over his body. The boy is not alone however as it is revealed that Trico, which can only be described as a mythical creature with cat-like, dog-like, and bird-like features is chained in the very same cave.
The boy then free’s the trapped Trico and then the fun begins. This is where the game takes on a lovely heartwarming tone. Anyone that has ever raised a dog, or been the owner of any animal for that part can find something truly captivating about Trico. As you begin to win the beast over, it begins to trust you more. Trico and the boy begin to realize that in order for them to escape their circumstances they will need to work together. I had this awestruck feeling just looking at this mystical beast and how it simply towered over me. I found many moments in this game where I would stare in awe at the intricacy that the designers took in making Trico act like a real pet. Trico has those mannerisms that we all see in the eyes of our closest pet. He shakes his feathers like dog, primps and jumps like a nimble cat.
You’ll face odds together as the place Trico and the boy are being held is something like a hollowed out volcano with massive ancient structures populating its insides. Guards line the hallways in some buildings forcing the boy to basically run away while Trico smashes them into tiny bits. Not to give too much away, but it’s revealed later in the game that there are other beasts like Trico in this prison and they are being controlled by some brainwashing signal. This signal is responsible for the abduction of the boy as well as others from the boys village. Eventually, the boy and Trico are tasked with climbing the tallest structure in the game to take down the brainwashing signal that forced Trico and the other beast like him to attack and eat humans. And that’s pretty much it, what you may be losing in my description are the moments where this game mimics that of a Studio Ghibli movie, or The Iron Giant. I’ll detail that a bit in our next section.
Presentation and Music
Wow, what a beautiful game this turned out to be. At first I scanned closely at the boys texture map and decided that he was a bit low res for my taste, but then as the larger parts of this game are revealed I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was playing some lovely Japanese anime, yet I was actively interacting with it. Below is a video of me playing the very beginning of this game:
The comparisons are easy to see, but I believe this is what gives The Last Guardian its best qualities. It is a simple tale told in a way to garner just a bit of your emotion and gives you a feeling you are an actual participant in what could be an animated feature. Now this isn’t like playing through a Pixar movie, it does have some rough edges in the gameplay department, but the tender moments between the boy and Trico really got to me. It reminded me of my first pet, Wheezer, a love-able mutt we adopted from a local grocery store. I really felt the designers of this game should be praised for how beautiful this game is, and the lovely job they did at creating and eliciting emotion through these digital characters. The boy and Trico have a very real connection.
I also really loved the music in The Last Guardian (which oddly enough is getting its own separate digital release later this year) if you have some time, listen to the video below for some of this awesome stuff:
The Last Guardian is something to be marveled. It stood through a multitude of development changes, Playstation 3 to Playstation 4, years of silence, and ultimately its release to actually be a very good game! I had a lot of fun playing this game during my New Years Eve and think this game can be enjoyed by just about anybody. Mind you now, this isn’t Shadow of the Colossus but it can be enjoyed by fans of the same game and still contains many of the bombastic and spine tingling set pieces that Team Ico is known for. Even in spite of the delay and some of the rough spots, this is an instant Playstation Classic.
GIVE IT A SHOT!
Happy New Year!