The Last Guardian is one of the most frustrating games I played this year. It’s not that it’s essentially broken (though a lot of it is) it’s just that the game manages to do a lot of great things and yet manage to feel like a buggy mess. Yet despite all its issues I’m still glad The Last Guardian came out as it manages to be one of my favorite exclusives on the PS4.
Back in 2001 a game called ICO introduced us to a strange genre, one that focused on puzzles, platforming, and simplicity. Its spiritual sequel, Shadow of the Colossus introduced us to massive beasts with a sense of epic scale never before seen in a video game. The Last Guardian is the merger of those two games, or as Director Fumito Ueda put it “a greatest hits album”. And that’s all true, while playing it there’s no denying that the game borrows heavily from both games though I went tend to lean more towards Ico as its main objective centered on escaping a castle.
The Last Guardian takes place in a mysterious castle or forbidden that’s isolated from the outside world. You play as a boy who was been captured and imprisoned and must escape, but you’re not alone. Accompanying you is a weird creature that’s sort of part dog, part rat, and part eagle (but it’s still cute). Together you will solve obstacles and occasionally fend off weird robots powered by some mysterious green energy. Similar to Ueda’s previous titles, the story is mostly left ambiguous and is left interpreted by the player.
The heart and soul of this game lies in its atmosphere and presentation. From ruins, lighting, and the creatures fur to its sound (huge props to the sound director, seriously) The Last Guardian offers an experience that truly sucks you in. It’s sort of a similar feeling you get when watching a Ghibli movie (Castle in the Sky in particular) where the world is so detailed that it manages to tell as much a story as its characters. Another amazing aspect I have to highlight is the animation. There is so much keyframing and life put into both the boy and Trico that it can easily win an award on that alone.
Gameplay is not nearly as polished as its presentation. There are serious issues here that can be summed up by one word: inconsistency. Throughout the game will need to jump, grab, climb Trico, and give commands to him in order overcome challenges and obstacles. The problem is it doesn’t click all the time. For instance one area I needed to navigate with Trico in a dark cave, I kept giving him orders to go forward but he always went back making me think I reached a dead end. It took me almost an hour to realize that I had to try again and actually move just a bit forward in order to trigger a high jump from Trico to a ledge which I couldn’t see. Generally Trico is kind of a clutz. At best he’s too smart jumping way ahead of you and at worst can’t understand what you want to do. Other puzzles such as throwing barrels to make it reach a higher platform ends in disasters as the barrel would constantly shift thanks to the game’s wonky physics and fall all the way down forcing me to repeat it from the beginning. It doesn’t help that the game suffers from the same sort of movement lag from Ico and SOTC, particularly when jumping. For a plaformer that’s troubling. Other players I’ve read online have got it worse, running into puzzles with pieces that go missing due to a glitch forcing them to restart and waste hours.
— Rash (@RashBandicoot) December 11, 2016
Trico failing to catch me due to a random glitch. Or maybe he just didn’t feel like it…
This is further hampered by the game’s terrible performance. Even on the PS4 Pro the game struggles to keep a steady 30 and at some pointes (particularly during the last area) the FPS drops heavily, sometimes reaching the 15 to 18 gap.
But when things do work, it’s good and ultimately feels rewarding. There is this sense of wonder and grandeur when riding Trico and countless times I would literally yell in amazement as he jumped from one platform to the other. This also includes genuine moments where I felt a sense of bond and connection that made me realize Trico was more than a tool to help me solve puzzles but an actual living creature. Calming him down after a battle or feeding him, I can say that Trico was like a part of me by the end of the journey and that’s something very few games have managed pull off, polished or not.