Review: The Last Guardian (PlayStation 4)

The Last Guardian: Official GBAtemp Review

Reviewed by Jessie Ljunggren, posted Dec 12, 2016, last updated Dec 12, 2016
After nearly 10 years in development, was the spiritual successor to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus worth the wait?
Jessie Ljunggren

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A Little Background

Development on The Last Guardian, or "Project Trico" as it was known early on, began in 2007 headed by Fumito Ueda, the mastermind (and often heralded genius) behind Ico and Shadow of the Colossus on Playstation 2. While originally intended as an exclusive for the Playstation 3, the game would not see the light of day until December of 2016-- almost a full 10 years later, and on a console one generation ahead of their target. While the title may have changed (Ico 3 -> Ico Tri -> Trico?), the graphics didn't seem to evolve with it's transition to a much more powerful platform.

 

A Boy and his Dog

The story starts with your character, a young nameless boy, waking up at the bottom of a ravine next to an injured and restless beast known to legend as a Trico (pronounced: Tree-Ko). You hesitantly form an alliance with the mutual goal of escaping the ravine, working together as the boy opens doors and gates and Trico acts as a fuzzy stepladder to boost the boy up higher and make impossible jumps over gaps.

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The bond between the two of you quickly deepens as you encounter seemingly supernatural obstacles: machines that send Trico into a rampage and mechanical beings hell-bent on capturing the boy with their magical incantations and throwing him into a mysterious glowing door (which results in a game over). While Trico's loyalty is assumedly dog-like, its biggest characteristics are purely cat-like. Add a pair of wings and feathers-for-fur and you have the perfect companion for a growing boy! (Batteries not included). The secrets of the "Nest"-- or the valley you find yourself in-- reveal themselves to you at an excruciatingly slow pace, with most of the game spent in slow exploration of small areas and petting down blood matted feathers and grooming your new best friend. Trico isn't without his faults, though, and he is mortally terrified of a recurring symbol that looks like an eye, halting progress until the boy can figure out a way to destroy or dispose of the offending totem.

 

Controls and Gameplay

Right away it's pretty obvious that the controls and camera are going to be an issue. The boy controls very much like the protagonist from Shadow of the Colossus, with the exception that he can hang on to ledges and Trico indefinitely, without the need of a stamina gauge. The game is very much a Prince of Persia Light, with only a few unique puzzle solutions thrown in. Since Trico is such a large beast, the biggest challenge in small spaces come from fighting with the camera to try and get it to a decent viewing angle. The whole thing is exacerbated by the fact that if the camera would normally cause clipping (think x-ray vision through a wall) it instead turns completely black and fades back in once it reaches a new suitable position to show your characters. This means that if you are wedged in a very tight space and trying to maneuver the camera, you could have several seconds of black screen until you get it "just right".

Often times you will fight with the controls for the boy himself as he stumbles around over rocks and debris, refuses to let go of ledges, and just overall plays as if you were trying to use the NES Powerglove to navigate the game. Trico, on the other hand, can be ordered around with the R1 button; But this seldom does any good, as it only seems to work once in a while, with Trico often doing whatever it wants-- even backtracking long jumping sections, which will make you groan and throw your hands up in the air. To be fair, maybe the programmers were trying to show how cat-like Trico is by letting it do whatever it wants and not listening to its master?

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What? Do I have something in my teeth?

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One of the cooler features of the game, being able to shoot laser beams, is given to you fairly early, then taken away very quickly and you don't regain the ability until much later in the game. This is a real kick in the pants, because most of the time you are just searching around for climbable ledges and squeezing through cracks trying to find switches and levers to progress through the Nest. The game is very subdued and only has a few adrenaline pumping sequences, it's definitely a slow experience meant to be enjoyed, but severely marred by its flawed mechanics. The game does give you hints in the form of glowing butterflies and brightly colored tiles to show you where to go, and it's very hard to kill yourself on accident. Don't get me wrong, you'll still DIE plenty, but mostly from glitches such as your character randomly letting go during a jumping sequence, or the game not working correctly (?) during a slow-motion suspense cut-scene, which sends you plummeting to your death. There are plenty of checkpoints and, on the whole, the game is very easy.

...and don't get me started on the barrel puzzles. Inaccurate throwing mechanics + rolling barrels + sharp ledges do NOT equal good puzzles.

Last-ing Impressions

I really, REALLY wanted to love this game, being a huge fan of ICO and Shadow, but the awkward controls and camera, plus the boring and repetitive scenery with yester-years graphics, really killed a lot of my expectations for this game. You can easily pick up the "Under 15 Hours" trophy, and by the time you finish playing it, you'll likely never want to play it again, assuming you can trudge through enough of the game to actually -reach- the ending. The game's price sticker is also matched to an AAA full priced title, which makes it even harder to justify purchase. Collectors and fans of the other two games will likely pay for it anyway, but I can't help but feel I and they will be cheated out of a product that should have been released years ago or at least with a lower price tag.

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Verdict
Pros
+ Great Sense of "Bonding"
+ Lots of Checkpoints and Hints
+ A Couple Truly Stunning Scenes
Cons
- Outdated Graphic Designs
- No Environment Diversity
- Frustrating Control and Camera
- Very Short
- Barrel Puzzles
8 Presentation
The story is -very- slow to unfold, but plenty of context clues and a small twist at the end tell everything that needs telling.
6 Gameplay
Horrible controls and camera; and considering they spent almost a decade on the game means they have no excuse for this.
5 Lasting Appeal
This will be going on my shelf next to Ico and Shadow, and I probably won't touch it again for another 10 years.
7
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
I feel like the product was branded and shipped to market "as is" to try and get what they could off of a lost and dead project. It's still worth a play, but definitely wait until the price drops or just borrow it from a friend.
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