After seven long years of development hell, it’s kind of a surreal experience to finally sit down and play The Last Guardian—at least, if you are a fan of Fumito Ueda’s past works of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. But, after the initial shock, it doesn’t take long to wrap your mind around what Fumito Ueda is trying to do. While his former works, each strove for remarkably different kinds of gameplay, The Last Guardian brings Ueda back to his 2001 roots. It’s more Ico than Shadow, and to put it in context, the game is essentially Ico 2, but with an AI companion much more intelligent and necessary than Shadow of the Colossus’ Agro. Would this be a disappointment for fans of Shadow? Not necessarily so. As bold and unique Shadow was, it was also a game that set the bar impossibly high for any of its successor (spiritual ones or not) to follow up.
My hour long hands-on session with The Last Guardian took place a little further from the beginning of the game, tasked me with solving a handful of navigation puzzles, that, like Ico, have you figuring out how to travel from point A to point B with two characters who possess different capabilities. The as yet unnamed boy character can scramble, climb, carry objects, and interact with various switches and objects, while the griffin-like creature Trico’s sheer size makes it possible to reach places the boy could never go on his own, and he can snatch you out of the air with his mouth or tail during some extremely precarious jumps.
Even though his hugeness is his biggest asset, most of the puzzles I worked through involved finding ways to move Trico’s massive physical form down the intended path. After climbing to the top of his head to make it over a wall and into a gated-off area, I had to signal to him to pull a nearby chain, which raised part of the wall I could then shove an object under. The latter puzzles I encountered mainly dealt with finding ways to shatter or remove stained glass windows from the environment, which Trico wants to avoid like the plague – for reasons that will be revealed in the final release.
From the outset, it’s clear The Last Guardian wants you to think of Trico as a living, breathing animal. A companion that you genuinely have affections for, if you will. And just like Agro in Shadow of the Colossus, Trico have a mind of his (or her, we really don’t know yet) own and will sniffs around, wanders about, and just generally look curious about what you are doing. The boy can draw his attention to objects by pointing at things, or even actions by jumping or jogging in place.
Check out the hands-on video of the same demo that I played
And since he can’t talk, Trico’s body language has to do much of the communicating. When you need him to help you clear a seemingly impossible jump, he clearly sits at attention to signal he’s ready to help—even if he most often melodramatically snatches you out of the air at the last second. Thankfully, you don’t need to babysit Trico at all: He generally knows when to follow you, and most of the instructions you give him (in the demo, at least) involve very specific interactions with the environment. Often, it takes Trico a bit to understand what you’re trying to tell him, at least in the beginning. I was told by the demo’s minder that as the game progresses, as the mutual trust grows between the boy and Trico, getting the latter to act upon the boy’s instructions become easier.
While my hands-on with The Last Guardian isn’t nearly enough time to draw a comprehensive conclusion, my time with it definitely had me walking away happy. That’s not to say the game isn’t without its flaws.
The camera has a tendency to get caught on objects in the environment, causing it to swivels unexpectedly or focuses where you don’t necessarily want it to, and it loses track of Trico at crucial moments. It’s distracting, and can make for some challenges more difficult than they should be. This is coupled with a tenuous control scheme that’s very reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus. You might have shrugged it off easily back in 2005, but 2016’s gamers might not be so forgiving.
But most importantly, The Last Guardian has genuine moment of brilliance at work here. You will laugh, you will chuckle, you will get frustrated, and I guarantee you that at some point in the final game, you will even feel distraught. The Last Guardian still have Fumito Ueda’s mark all over it, and that’s a wonderful thing.