December 6, 2016 is a date that fans of the development team known as Team Ico (now known as genDESIGN) have been waiting for, for ten years. Team Ico brought us the heartfelt emotional games Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. These games were and are beautiful gaming gems that left their fan base wanting more, wanting another game. That game would become The Last Guardian. The Last Guardian initially began development in 2007 and was later announced at the 2009 E3 with a release date in 2011. Unfortunately the game suffered multiple delays. Delays that came in the form of Fumito Ueda (the games designer and director) and other Team Ico members departing Sony. As well as hardware difficulties which culminated in The Last Guardian moving to the PS4. Was it worth the way? Was it what we hoped for? Does is complete the holy triumvirate? Let’s find out.
A Boy and his Trico
If you played Shadow of the Colossus you might be familiar with the concept of the story in The Last Guardian. Sure, Shadow of the Colossus was about the Wanderer saving a Princess by killing Colossi but what everyone remembers is the bond between the Wanderer and his horse Argo. I remember sitting on the couch watching my brother play. He was controlling the Wanderer as he rode Argo across a stone bridge. The bridge was missing a section so they had to make the risky jump as the bridge was located over a seemingly endless cavernous pit. Argo leapt and landed on the other section of the bridge but it started to give out. The Wanderer jumped, turned and screamed. Trying to help Argo gain footing the Wanderer reached out only to watch his beloved horse, his friend, fall. Both my brother and I screamed out “NO!” Surely, The Last Guardian is bound to have a moment or moments like this.
The Last Guardian starts out with you waking up confused, not knowing where you are. And to add to the confusion a hurt and scared birdlike dog animal is lying on the ground next to you. It’s chained down. It won’t let the boy get close so you must figure a way out to calm it down. You search the cave you’re both trapped in and find a glowing barrel that attracts bright blue butterflies. You pick up the barrel and throw it in front of the animal to distract it as you pull out the spears sticking out of its legs and shoulders. This is how The Last Guardian starts, I can’t imagine how it ends.
The bond between man and animal is probably as old as time itself. The love between a child and their dog can’t be put into words.The Last Guardian allows us to explore that relationship. The hurdles and frustration one faces as they get to know and learn this new being. Initially this animal is seen as a pet but over time they become something more, they become a friend or a part of the family. They might even become your savior, or you, theirs.
Do My Eyes Deceive Me?
The Last Guardian is visually stunning. The level design and lighting are beautifully rendered. The trees and foliage are almost life-like. Every nook and cranny is filled with detail. Each area you enter you can almost always find something to marvel at. I enjoy the contrast between being inside the dark and dank castle-like dungeon and the bright life filled life of the outside.
There is a juxtaposition in The Last Guardian, the boy is animated like a cartoon while Trico (the bird-like cat dog) is so life-like that he’s almost real. I’m not sure if this was Ueda’s intention but it feels like it should be. The boy is bright and vibrant and the cartoonish animation adds a level of youthful innocence to his character. Trico’s character design is flawless. The feather’s in his coat are so detailed you can almost feel them as down in your pillow. The textures in Trico’s coat and how it reacts to exposure to water are marvelous. Trico’s eyes are as expressive as an old soul. And the facial animations and subtle mannerisms Trico expresses are too real. The Last Guardian is a marvelous game to experience.
If you played the classic PS2 games Ico and Shadow of the Colossus then you will be very familiar with the controls and mechanics in The Last Guardian. The Last Guardian is a platform puzzle game that eases you into its control scheme right from the beginning. The controls are very reminiscent of the controls for consoles two generations ago but I think it adds to the charm of The Last Guardian. Initially the button configuration doesn’t make sense but soon enough you’ll find your rhythm with it.
So far I’ve been nothing but rainbows and sunshine in this review but there are clouds. And those clouds come in a major way and in the form of camera angles. They are horrible. The view tends to be a third person type view that allows you to control the camera. User error? No, I think not. Some platforming occurs in narrow alley ways or cliffs sides with a set camera angle that you can’t change. Tight quarters are not your friend. Even when you’re outside the camera feels off. You have this beautiful world to look at but you can only do so a few seconds at a time before the camera tries to redirect your attention elsewhere. Hopefully this is an issue that can be addressed in a patch or update.
The Last Word
Overall, The Last Guardian is a gem of a game. For fans that have waited an entire decade The Last Guardian is probably the masterpiece we were waiting for. The Last Guardian has classic PS2 style game play mechanics. Beautiful visuals, both in level and character design. The mannerisms and facial expressions on Trico are perfect. You get to experience Trico’s angry and tantrums when he becomes unsettled. You’re scared yet you care for him. Then you get to sooth him pack to normal by petting him. You see an old soul through the creatures eyes.
The biggest issues that The Last Guardian has are horrible camera angle and there are no clues for solving the puzzles. The former being the bigger issue of the two. Even though the boy had already established a bond with Trico you’ll spend a good portion of the game waiting around for Trico to make up his mind. For players new to this style of game play The Last Guardian might be a pass. Regardless of these issue The Last Guardian is worth picking up for the bonding experience alone.