Prior to the launch of any game, the swell of excitement from fans can often be scary. So many people want a game to be good that the build up to its release can often be stressful for those looking to play it simply because no one knows whether or not the game will be fun. The Last Guardian, a game made by the same developers as Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, is in that same boat, only the microscope that this game sits under is much larger than any other this year. A title that’s been nearly a decade in the making, nearly everyone has an eye turned to this game to see if it was worth the wait after all. After playing it, I can safely say that it was.
The first thing you’ll notice when you start up The Last Guardian is probably the one thing that I truly disliked from start to finish: the controls and the camera. For fans of Team Ico’s other games, you’ll notice that theses titles control in a way, unlike any other game. In The Last Guardian, this is no different, as the game forces you to essentially forget what you’ve learned in your game playing life. Pressing Triangle will make your character jump, crouching and dropping down from ledges is the X button, and the control scheme only gets odder from there on out. The camera, on the other hand, is familiar for gamers, although they’ll find it to be extremely tough to maneuver, especially with a giant animal in the way most of the time.
Thankfully, the game’s manic control only manages to detract slightly from the rest of the game, which features a surprisingly solid story about friendship. For those who are unaware, the title is about you, a child who’s woken up in an unfamiliar place, and Trico, a large, dog-bird-cat creature that you find yourself with. After freeing him, the behemoth takes a liking to you and your bond begins. Throughout the rest of the game, you’ll be forced to use Trico to solve puzzles of varying difficulty as your bond together is tested. As is the case with every Team Ico game, the game is told more through the experiences that happen in-game rather than with the use of a ton of cutscenes.
When it comes to video game companions, they are oftentimes generally just there to help you along with something and given no afterthought. Trico, on the other hand, is the polar opposite. An incredibly detailed and expressive character, you can literally sit for minutes on end and watch Trico go through various emotional ranges. If you stray too far away, it calls out to try to find you. When it gets angry, it tenses up and its feathers ruffle. When you pet it, the beast lays down and coos under your affection. It’s safe to say that Trico may be one of the greatest video game companions ever made. It is alive, unpredictable (as all animals are), and more importantly, feels incredibly real.
Outside of Trico, the game does look particularly gorgeous in most areas. While you will often find yourself in drab, flat rooms with the same brownish colors everywhere, you’re more than likely going to be outside in a world that is vibrant, colorful, and extremely well lit. Trico looks particularly great when you get outside, as you can see the lightning bouncing off of the animal and truly pay attention to the detail on it.
While Trico is well designed and it’s incredibly fun to feel like you’re interacting with an actual wild animal, it also can get very frustrating at times. As is with real animals, Trico will oftentimes move at its own leisure, explore places without you, or just not do what you’re asking it to. The game gives you the ability to point out to Trico where it should go, but there are plenty of times where it simply doesn’t listen, only adding to the frustration. The animal is central to solving pretty much all of the puzzles once you get to a certain point in the game, and even one wrong move can leave you having to restart and hope that Trico finally figures out what its supposed to do.
Despite the moments of frustration, I still found myself in awe every time I made it to the next part of the game’s world. Fans of the Dark Souls franchise would not feel out of place in this world, a place that’s filled with towering buildings and mountains. You find yourself at the bottom of a chasm of some sort and must climb your way to the top. What’s truly impressive about the game is that when you look up to get a sense of scale, you are almost guaranteed that you’ll be visiting that point eventually. Passing a section of the game is rewarding in its own right, but being able to look down and literally see puzzles I’ve already beaten to is a different feeling entirely.
Speaking of puzzles, the set pieces in this game are surprisingly well crafted. I didn’t expect so many of them to force me to think critically, and while a couple of them were so hard thanks to Trico (and the camera) being difficult, a lot of them were genuinely tough to figure out. The puzzles are often fairly large, giving you a more rewarding experience when you finally find your way out of it. As you make your way into the second half of The Last Guardian, the puzzles start to literally shape the way the game should be played, and how you can possibly approach future puzzles.
When all is said and done, The Last Guardian is a game that, honestly, I did not expect to be as good as it was. After a decade of waiting and so much excitement surrounding the game, I never thought it’d be able to deliver on any front. However, the folks at genDESIGN (the company formed by Fumito Ueda and other Team Ico folks) have delivered an admittedly flawed game, but still, a truly great game that explores the story of an unlikely friendship that will leave you with tons of memorable moments.
This review was based on a digital review copy of The Last Guardian for the PS4 provided by SIE Japan Studio.