Having is not such a pleasing thing as wanting. After nearly a decade of hype due largely to the excellent Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, we finally have the chance to play The Last Guardian. Expectations are impossibly high and, while the game isn’t the immediate classic we hoped, it still is a fantastic experience unlike most any other game you’ve played.
The Last Guardian is the third entry into the esoteric, loosely connected franchise from Fumito Ueda who previously delivered two of most iconic Playstation exclusive games, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Like its predecessors, The Last Guardian stars a young boy protagonist in a tranquil but solitary world of dilapidated ruins, a seeping darkness, and oh so many switch puzzles. The game marries Ico’s escort gameplay with Colossus’ giant creatures giving you your own virtual pet in Trico, a mythic beast that is part bird, part dog, and presumably part cat in that it often gives no bothers to your commands.
Trico is an outstanding achievement in game design though. Trico is your constant companion that helps you navigate the enormous architecture and protects you against the spectral soldiers that try repeatedly to steal you away. But it’s the several small touches about the creature that go a long way to garner your sympathy. You’ll feel bad as it whimpers and limps around after a bloody battle or be amused as it jumps around elated when it finds you after you being momentarily separated. We laughed when we caught it playing in a small pool. It’s adorable when it wedge its head into a small doorway to keep an eye on you. Thankfully the developers mapped L2 to track Trico at all times which you will want to use often to just watch how impressive it can be. We don’t want to spoil much, but the relationship you form with Trico and the impact of the hard decisions you have to make in the finale are reason enough play through this game.
That’s not to say this game is perfect – far from it. Despite a ten-year gestation period much of the game still feels unpolished. The framerate struggles through much of the game as they opt to show you expansive vistas as you climb impossibly high. The delayed framerate translates to sluggish controls at times, which absolutely should not belong in a platforming game where death comes all too easily from an imprecise jump. Most bizarrely, several puzzles are nearly unsolvable so we’d advise keeping a guide at the ready just in case. (The most egregious being a late game sequence that pits you in water underneath Trico and requires you to move a floating box to a specific spot to encourage the beast to free you – though there are no visual queues or hints as to why that spot in particular is significant.)
Ultimately the game works because of Trico. Yes, his independence or natural curiosity can frustrate the hell out of you as you struggle in vain to use him to escape a room, but all of those hassles seem small in comparison to the incredible moments you share with the creature especially as it starts to feel more confident and ends up rescuing you in a few hair-raising sequences. It can be a chore to get to those moments, but they add up to be a stunning experience. It’s not Shadow of the Colossus or Ico, but it’s certainly worthy of your attention.
There are moments when the camera pulls back as the world crumbles beneath you and somehow Trico saves the day (again) that are just amazing. The love / hate relationship you form with Trico throughout the 10 hour campaign will affect you in the bittersweet ending.
What Doesn’t Work
The biggest opponents in this game turn out to be the inconsistent framerate, sluggish controls, and independently minded Trico, which may exhaust some from seeing much of what this game has to offer.
Overall: Buy It
It’s not as significant as the two previous games (and the music is remarkably underwhelming after so many notable songs from Ico and SotC), but we’d never think an escort mission would work as a game. It’s a unique experience that will last with you for a while and well worth your time.