It took an eternity, but it feels surreal that you can head to your favourite retailer right now and ask for a copy of The Last Guardian. It’s there, it’s real and it’s the final chapter in a trilogy we’ve been promised for close to a decade. How can this ever live up to expectations? It’s time dear reader that you leave your presumptions at the door, as Ueda is about to remind you just why he’s such a very special icon in our industry.
No spoon-feeding for you
If you’re after all-out action and Hollywood set-scenes you’ve come to the wrong place. You will however find many moments that’ll move you and send shivers down your spine. There will be times where you’ll feel your tear ducts being overwhelmed and bulging up with tears and, if anything, The Last Guardian is a reminder that life is great. As with any Ueda game it starts off with little to no understanding exactly what you should be doing it, or why you should be doing whatever you’re doing. All you know is that you must find your way out of this castle you’re in.
[pullquote_right]If you own a pet (especially a dog or cat) you’ll notice that Trico owns all the qualities of these pets.[/pullquote_right]Players play as an unnamed boy who wakes up next to a cat-dog-bird-griffin hybrid thing, named Trico. You have no idea how you got there and, like with previous Ueda games, there’s no spoon-feeding at all. You have to learn to experiment right away, though there will be some hints if you really get stuck. You’ll soon find that the boy can jump, pick items up that can be thrown or dropped and also climb ladders. Once you get a grasp of your basic control system it’ll move on to more advanced actions that has you combining your move set with Trico. It’s at this point that The Last Guardian really gets going.
If you own a pet (especially a dog or cat) you’ll notice that Trico owns all the qualities of these pets. His mannerisms are captured perfectly and you have this absolute bond with it. The boy can instruct and command Trico to do certain actions, such as jumping, sitting or smashing obstacles in your way. You’ll also, early on, receive a shield-like object, called a mirror. By aiming this at destructible environments Trico will shoot streams of lightning from his tail that’ll destroy objects and make a path for you. How this was all meant to originally run on the PS3 is a baffling thought.
You have a new best friend
The Last Guardian has a very unique art style that’ll remind you very much of ICO. It’s not realisitic, but that’s what makes it so beautiful. When you’re not looking at the stunning backdrops showcasing beautiful fantasy architecture you’re in awe of your animal friend. Seeing Trico sit down and randomly scratch himself, with feathers flying everywhere, or having his ears flap back and forth, as the boy bothers him while climbing on his head area, is as lifelike as you’ll get. It’s as if Ueda combined the best bits of ICO (art style and partner bonding) and Shadow of the Colossus (huge climbable beast) to provide you with something that’s just about perfect. Be well aware that you have to both command and look after Trico.
Throughout your journey you’re on the lookout for barrels indicated by blue butterflies hovering nearby. In these barrels you’ll find food to help energize your best friend. At times Trico will completely run out of energy, which will require you to stop your progress so that you can find him the food supplements he requires. The game is mostly made up of platforming, puzzle and adventure bits, but you’ll also come face-to-face with an enemy in the game. They act in a very similar fashion to the shadow enemies in ICO, but also wield weapons and objects that hurt and bring fear into the eyes of Trico.
[pullquote_left]There will be moments where you’ll want to tear your hair out.[/pullquote_left]Like your dog or cat Trico will communicate with the boy by looking at certain areas, or leaping to a position to communicate what he’s trying to tell you. His biggest tool for communicating however comes via his eyes. His eyes aren’t always cute puppy dog eyes. When it turns red it’s because he feels threatened and it’s up to you to help solve the problem. This could be a lever that needs to be pulled, running and charging into an enemy or various other actions. Around each and every corner you will face a puzzle element. It’s very reminiscent of older games, and for those who enjoy puzzles it’s a grand return to form. This does not mean it’s perfect. There will be moments where you’ll want to tear your hair out.
Lots and lots of feels
Seeing as Trico is based off various animals it has a mind of its own. At home you might call for your dog or cat to get back inside the house, but whether they decide they are going to obey you or not is up to their own discretion and instinct, and Trico plays to this very well. When you gather how to command Trico you’ll have moments where he does the most annoying things and will simply not listen to what you’re saying, or he’s naïve and not noticing what you’re trying to tell him… and at other times he’ll spot something that’ll make you feel like a fool for not seeing it. There was a ‘water-based’ puzzle that had me battling for ages for Trico to perform what I knew would work, but like any animal it’s really tough to get angry with him. It’s this human and animal integration that so many of us deal with every day that hits home the hardest.
Ueda has worked on a game that’s not perfect, but it’s purposely not perfect… which ironically just about makes it a perfect experience. When the boy is in harms way Trico will reach out with his Griffin claws to try reach him, he’ll cry and do anything in his power to get to him and save him – even if it means he harms himself to do so. The Last Guardian is just a beautiful game that reminds you why you have such a love and bond with your own pet at home… and right now I’m going to hug my dog because he loves me unconditionally just as much as Trico loves this boy. If you have a heart it’s going to pull on all those strings, be prepared. Ueda is truly the last guardian of pure gaming ‘feels’ of our time.
Please note: I played this on the PS4 Pro, hence I had no frame rate issues that apparently plagued the standard PS4 base model, which obviously affects this score.