Title: The Last Guardian

Platform: PS4

Reviewed on: PS4

Genre: Puzzle Platformer, Adventure

Players: Single player




Written by Whistler 19th December 2016












You can’t argue that Team ICO’s design philosophy has been outstandingly ambitious despite having so few titles under their belts. Both game’s on the Playstation 2 were massive hits with critics, winning several awards and gained a cult following. Now both weren’t perfect titles but they certainly made big waves in the industry, influencing many PS2 classics, and Shadow of the Colossus is still by far one of my favourite games ever. So it was only natural that those of us that experienced these great adventures were eager for their next big installment, The Last Guardian. Fumito Ueda’s ambitious project was originally intended for the PS3 back in 2007, and much like other titles that were stuck in development hell you can’t help but wonder, did their lofty aspirations get the better of them?


Our tale follows a young unnamed boy who finds himself in a bizarre predicament, waking up next to an giant imprisoned griffin-like creature called Trico in strange valley known from legend as “The Nest”.

While initially aggressive towards the boy, after caring to its needs and unshackling the feathered beast, they form a symbiotic bond and work towards trying to find a way home. It’s a simple tale with the focus on their subtle friendship that develops slowly across their journey as they meet terrible hardships and face insurmountable perils. What genuinely surprised me is just how subtle and slowly their bond grows, it starts much like a stray cat or dog following the boy then organically blossoms into a truly heartfelt experience.


























 

Which sadly, is mired by several mechanical faults and design choices.

What starts off as a fun little side activity, scavenging for barrels becomes an all too reoccurring pit stop as you're forced to feed Trico before you can proceed rather than something organic you’ll actively want to pursue. A few times would have been forgiven and trust me I loved the oversized goofy Tamagotchi; but certain moments only served to grind the narrative’s momentum to a complete stop and make for unnecessary padding. It must be said, while it helped towards Shadow of the Colossus’s unique feel, here the pseudo-realistic physics ultimately lead to frustrations not helped at all by the need to constantly wrestle for control of the camera. Our protagonist often stumbles when running, and bounces off terrain as you awkwardly traverse rubble thanks to the clunky controls.

Hell I died more times than I’d like to admit since our boy hero would just lose interest in holding onto Trico during a giant leap or would just even just fall through any grabbable ledge and Trico’s tail.


Then there’s Trico, this loveable oversized cat-dog-bird hybrid behaves charmingly lifelike, but almost too lifelike. Trico plays a key part in progressing from area to area (besides the mandatory lunch breaks), and you must work together to reach your goal. The child can traverse narrow and small pathways, interact with levers, can remove certain obstacles that leave our beloved Trico hypnotized, and climb atop him à la Shadow of the Colossus. Trico can fight off attackers, leap great distances, climb lofty heights and even serves as a makeshift platform for the kid to reach (usually to locate more breakfast-in-a-barrels). At first it created this odd yet charming experience as much like someone with their favourite childhood pet you need to try communicate without sharing a similar language.


Eventually you’ll gain the ability to direct Trico in the form of holding the right shoulder button combined with either the Dpad for giving directions or the four face buttons to tell him to jump, sit and presumably roll over (besides jump and sit I never did use the other two). But while it’s a wonder in its own right to watch Trico function like a living creature, it often seems to listen much like some cat’s I’ve known, as in it doesn’t listen.

Constantly I wondered, was this was an intentional design choice or a recurring technical glitch?



























So many puzzles took me far longer than they should have, not due to being particularly challenging, no, instead I would sit there yelling repeatedly while Trico just sat and looked up at me with those big dumb puppy dog eyes. I would have figured the puzzle out fairly quickly and realize I need Trico to do X,Y,Z to progress but often it flat out ignores my inputs, or partly acts out my wishes then loses interest and/or goes to the wrong spot. What is meant to be an organic enjoyable unique experience with my huge feathered companion to compliment the journey repeatedly lead to frustration after frustration. Often the solution would be to just sit the controller down and catch up on some activities on my 2nd monitor until Trico’s two second attention span finally gave me a time and day.

The gameplay can be fun, but too often do mechanical mishaps and AI annoyance muddy the experience.


Then the visuals make it all too apparent how The Last Guardian was intended for PS3, they’re not bad by any means, but there’s a certain ‘PS2 vibe’ on occasions that can’t quite be pinpointed to any one element. Textures feel rather flat and don’t stand up to scrutiny in certain areas that for whatever reason has the PS4 slogging through countless framerate drops not helped by the motion blur. I also couldn’t help but notice how cartoonish the boy and other human characters looked compared against Trico. Trico looks beautifully lifelike, with a dynamic feathery coat complimented by smooth animation and it even managed to move about the game world realistically.


The game world is however where I’d agree that this likely wasn’t going to run on previous generation hardware, even though I swear the lighting (pretty as it is) and fog effects exist purely to try cover up the aged visuals. But what at first seemed like just a string of random setpieces, it's revealed to be a cohesive world as you can see where you’re going to end up and see how far you’ve came by the end of your journey akin to that of Dark Souls (just not Dark Souls 2, as well all know the lava castle made zero geological sense). The level design helps give so much sense of scale to the journey, short as it may be, and made the end of the journey all the more poignant.



























All in all, is The Last Guardian a good game? Yes.

Is it as good or even better than ICO and/or Shadow the Colossus?

That’s debatable, but personally Shadow of the Colossus was a far stronger title that pushed the PS2 to its technical limits with quirky gameplay (that so many others have tried to emulate) whereas The Last Guardian doesn’t shake off the cobwebs of a previous decade and a myriad of clunky frustrating gameplay.

But the one element Mr.Ueda promised to keep despite the delays and seemingly unending development cycles certainly delivers. I’ll admit I didn’t feel like there was as much of a tangible threat at times, but I loved the journey of a boy and his Trico. There’s so many heartfelt moments and without spoiling anything I definitely felt the heartstrings being pulled when tension ramps up and our uncanny duo have the odds stacked against them. Put up with the gameplay and enjoy the experience.



Pros:

Solid puzzle platforming,

Genuinely organic relationship between a boy and a beast,

Trico looks and animates amazingly,

I want to keep him,

Intricate level design.


Cons:

Plentiful framerate issues,

Frustrating controls,

Trico acts too much like a cat who just wants fed at times,

Trico jump,

I SAID JUMP.


Final verdict,

The Last Guardian never quite lives up to it’s predecessors’ spectacles but does score a 7.5/10.

 

Written by,

Whistler


 

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