Game: The Last Guardian
Platform: Playstation 4
Publisher/Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment/Team Ico/SIE Japan Studio/GenDesign
Describe This Game in Three Words: Best. Puppy. EVER.
Score: 4.5 out of 5
Plot: A young boy wakes up in a mysterious cave where a massive and equally mysterious beast is injured, starving and chained next to him. The two become friends and go on a magical adventure.
Up, Up: No game has ever been anticipated quite like Last Guardian. It’s the spiritual sequel to two of the most critically acclaimed and artistically masterful games of the sixth-generation era of gaming (Ico and Shadow of the Colossus), and has been the No. 1 entry on any number of “Awesome Games We’ll Never See Finished” lists. They hype was impossibly high, so how does it live up?
Surprisingly well. As expected the game is beyond gorgeous, and exactly what you would expect out of Team Ico. The lush ruins and high cliffs will take you breath away, and the environment is the most realistic I have ever seen.
That’s nothing compared to Trico, your companion beast. Part Falcor, part big-dog-that-refuses-to-believe-it-isn’t-a-small-lap-dog, Trico may be the single greatest non-human character ever created for a video game. The detail to its feathers and fur, the idle animations where it nuzzles you, the silly but sincere way it springs to obediently follow you across massive distances and over obstacles, and so much more add up to an expressive and nuanced creature that has you instantly in love with it from the very first moment you lay eyes on him.
Last Guardian has always promised the ultimate in boy-meets-dog, and it delivers that story in spades. Everything from Trico’s small fear of water to the softening of the glow in its eyes when the boy pets to soothe him makes the beast, in and of itself, a part of the level design the way few characters are.
Down, Down: Much like a real life dog, there are some downsides. You periodically feed Trico barrels (I still haven’t found out why), and the animation for it eating them tends to get the creature hung up in small spaces in an annoying way. He can also be more hindrance than help if you find yourself needing to backtrack. Imagine that big dog I mentioned earlier, but taking up more than two-thirds of the bed when you’re trying to sleep and simply won’t move. That’s Trico.
I’d also say that the puzzles can be somewhat non-intuitive. They’re not bad or particularly difficult, but the game has a poor way of communicating “this is a new skill you need to use” sometimes. On top of that, though I know it’s Team Ico’s thematic design motif, old ruins and bottomless, mist-filled pits are getting a little boring.
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Left, Right, Left, Right: Here’s an unpopular opinion; Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are not actually all that fun to play. A lot of it has to do with the clunky feel of the controls, and a tendency toward game-feel that really wants to simulate what it feels like to pull a lever.
Last Guardian does this way better than its predecessors, but still not as well as, say Limbo. It’s by far the best Team Ico game control-wise, but that still rises the game only to “not frustrating” when compared to other unrelated titles. Bottom line, if you liked the first two Team Ico games this is better, and if you didn’t, you should try this one to see if you would.
B, A: Last Guardian is definitely the first game I have ever played that I felt the Playstation 4 was needed to get it right. I can’t imagine it on Playstation 3 or below as I can literally feel and see when I’m playing it where cuts to graphics and environment would probably have to be made. I’m not saying Last Guardian is reason-alone to upgrade to eighth-generation consoles, but it is definitely the game I would trot out to sell the concept.
Start?: Yes. I would argue that no game can live up to the anticipation that has surrounded Last Guardian for so long, but in the end it is definitely a game that you will not regret playing. Like the two that came before it, it can be frustrating at times, but it’s tempered with such a unique manner of play between the boy and Trico that you will be missing out on one of the great leaps forward in mechanical storytelling by missing it. I’m holding out for King’s Quest as my Game of the Year, but Last Guardian is a very, very close second.