Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are a couple of gaming’s sacred cows. You know what I mean – they’re games that you’d better not even think about criticizing unless you want to eat shit in the comments section of your choice for awhile. They’re games that (usually smug and unpleasant) people drag out whenever they need to talk about how “video games are art;” I’ll try not to get into that. Certainly they’re both gorgeous and worth checking out, but they appeal to a certain kind of gamer.
The Last Guardian is the third game in this “series,” such as it is; it’s another spectacle-focused title that’s meant to push big graphics and get people talking about how games are finally, FINALLY art. It’s also spent a solid nine years in development, suffering delay after delay as well as a transition between consoles, earning it a legendary reputation as vaporware. The best part of playing The Last Guardian might be the novelty of owning a copy of The Last Guardian, really, and it’s not even that bad of a game.
As you’re probably aware, The Last Guardian follows an unnamed child as he explores ruins with the help of a giant dog/griffin creature called Trico. The boy is small and clumsy, capable of doing little but clambering up ledges, pulling levers and moving small objects; Trico, meanwhile, is large…and, well, clumsy, serving as a sort of living platform and engine of destruction. Working with Trico is key to getting anything done in this game…
…and, well, that’s just it: you’ve probably heard by now that the controls in The Last Guardian are interesting, for lack of a better word. Controlling your character isn’t too bad, though he tends to be a little floppy and unsteady; the interesting part comes when you try and get anything done with Trico. You don’t really order Trico around so much as gently suggest that maybe he (?) might think about doing what you want, if he’s feeling like it, but please don’t if it’s going to impose. This is essentially a game about exploring some ruins as a toddler with a giant, drooling Great Dane by your side; the dog adores you and means well, but it’s also dumb as a brick and not even remotely the kind of pal you want to rely on in a life-or-death situation. The Last Guardian is Marmaduke: The Game.
Watch as Trico casually knocks you into stuff! Be amazed when you get flung off a cliff thanks to your pal’s lumbering movements and leaps! Roar with laughter when you get slammed into the ceiling thanks to an ill-timed see-saw jump; roar with frustration when Trico just absolutely refuses to walk where you want or stand where you need him to stand! This is absolutely not a game for the impatient, and I think owners of very large, very friendly, very dumb dogs will have an easier time swallowing Trico’s dopiness than most. That’s not meant to be an excuse by any means; it’s just how it is. I think Trico MIGHT learn to obey a little better as the game goes on, but that’s hard to define in any real sense, and a more responsive pet would have helped the game be a little more inviting to the player.
Regardless, The Last Guardian does a lot of the things you’d expect the game to given its pedigree: it’s very pretty, it boasts fairly simplistic gameplay and puzzles and it has quite a few memorable moments that are likely to stick with you after the fact. Trico certainly feels like a living creature, for better or for worse, particularly when it comes to how stubborn he can be. You’ll use Trico to reach high places, ride on him as he leaps across gaps and even direct powerful lightning blasts from his tail. Later, he serves to assist in combat against hollow knight enemies, satisfyingly smashing them to bits with paw strikes. For your part, you’ll toss him barrels of tasty, tasty silver “something,” which he adores enough to snap right out of midair if you throw them right. As irritating as he is – and he can be very, very irritating – you’ll probably come to like Trico in the end.
One thing that bears mention: the framerate issues that plagued Shadow of the Colossus in its PS2 debut eroded a lot of the good will I had for that game, and while I’m told the eventual re-release on PS3 addressed the problem, I haven’t played it to confirm. I bring this up because The Last Guardian also suffers from similar problems; on the more powerful PS4 Pro they’re slightly abated, but you’re still going to run into situations where the game chokes more than you’d expect.
I’m not entirely sure how this happened, given the game was originally slated for a release on PS3 and is now running on a drastically more powerful console, but there you have it. Don’t get me wrong; this is a beautiful game that’s a pleasure to look at…but there are definitely moments when you think that another delay might have been in order. As for the game’s sound, it’s gorgeous, the pseudo-language used by the characters is delightful and the music, when it’s present, is lovely.
Given that I wasn’t as enamored with Ico or Shadow of the Colossus as most, I think that in the end, The Last Guardian is pretty much just what we expected it to be. It continues Fumito Ueda’s legacy of gorgeous game-experiences (“gamesperiences?”) and your response to it is probably going to be on par with how you felt about the previous two games. I’m not entirely sure that what we got here merited such a long and torturous development, but it’s not a bad game by any means and it’s worth checking out if you think you’re into this kind of thing. Just be ready to swear a little when Trico decides to deposit you off the side of a cliff yet again.