The Last Guardian review
Eleven years ago I played one of my favorite, if not favorite, PlayStation 2 titles: Shadow of the Colossus. The game kept me hooked from beginning to end and left me wanting more. Unfortunately, more didn’t come for a long time. But now, The Last Guardian is finally out for us to play. Was it worth the long development cycle and delays? Well yes…..and no.
The game opens with a young boy in a cavern with a giant beast chained, and wounded. This gets you familiar with the controls as well as establishing the bond between the player and Trico, the giant cat bird thing that has the same name as a certain Pokémon. During this segment the voice of an older man is narrating the story as well as giving you hints, a first for a game from Team Ico.
Once you get familiar with the controls and escape the cavern is when the game really begins. You’re treated to a beautiful landscape and environments as well as great bloom lighting effects. The architecture and art design is effective in being minimal but memorable. There’s a charm in something that’s not overly detailed. Like a great work of art, something minimal can be something grand to the right person. I felt truly immersed in this world as I did with the previous games. However, Trico himself is extremely detailed and beautiful. I love his design quite a bit. He can be intimidating at times as well as playful and endearing. His individual feathers all move when he’s walking or in the wind, and his eyes change colors depending on the situation. Clearly most of the work went into him, and it shows.
From a technical viewpoint, Trico behaves like a living thing. It looks around when you reach a new place, it’ll scratch itself when it’s sitting, doing nothing, I even noticed his ears move if it touched a ceiling. He behaves exactly like an animal and that is to be commended regarding the AI. However this can also be an issue of you aren’t the most patient person out there.
Most of the gameplay revolves around puzzle solving, which is to be expected if you’ve played Ico or Shadow of the Colossus. However, a lot of the puzzle solving involves Trico and he has a mind of his own for the most part. You’re able to “control” Trico with the R1 button. I use the term control loosely since it’s mainly calling him or issuing commands like you would your pet. More often than not, he’ll take a while to get to you, or he’ll do something you didn’t want, or he’ll seem like he just doesn’t care. I know this was probably intentionally done since the developers wanted to make him seem as real as possible. If I tell my dog to sit, he’ll sit but will probably roll over next time I tell him. To me this happens far too often to the point where I found myself frustrated. Not to mention the dated controls.
Control-wise The Last Guardian will feel familiar if you’ve played Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Triangle is your jump, R1 calls your partner, etc. Last Guardian feels like a mixture of the two previous games. You explore a castle type environment with a companion similar to Ico, while you climb Trico similar to climbing the Colossi in Shadow of the Colossus. However, Last Guardian has much more in common with Ico. Unlike Ico, where you call Yorda and must protect her, this time around you call Trico for help and to be protected. The boy you control has no means of attack besides a mirror that enables Trico to fire lightning wherever the beam is pointing at. Whenever you encounter light soldiers, you’re Yorda and Trico is Ico protecting you. This is a fascinating flip and nod to Ico. It really brings this Trilogy of games full circle. This, also, is one of my main issues with this game.
While Last Guardian is an extremely beautiful and artistic experience, it controls like a game that belongs on the PS2. Games should evolve alongside the hardware, not go back unless it’s intentionally done in an indie game. This game has been in development since 2007 and has been delayed numerous times. But in all that time it seems they were more focused on giving an artistic experience that explore very interesting themes, including isolation. However, this is a video game and it must play well in order to truly succeed. What made Ico and Shadow of the Colossus stand out were they seemed more like a work of art as well as an experience. Back then, we could look past the controls because they felt a bit similar to what was already out. But in that 11 year gap between games, a lot has happened in gaming. Indie games are becoming more and more popular and are able to deliver fantastic art experiences through its expressionism. Games like Journey are a prime example of this. Not to mention Journey is cheaper and controls much better. The Last Guardian feels like it was released too little too late to make an impact the way it’s predecessors did.
Overall The Last Guardian is a beautiful experience with great puzzles and some thrilling moments. However, the dated controls and mechanics hold it back from being something great. If you enjoyed Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, you’ll enjoy this game. I’m not sure if I can recommend it to someone new to these games, however. I’d wait for a price drop to be honest with you guys.
Final Score: 74%