Developer: SCE Japan Studio
Release Date: 12/06/2016
Available Exclusively On
The “Ico Trilogy”, as it’s sometimes called, has been a long time in the making. Starting way back in the late 90’s, Ico was a highly anticipated game that didn’t see much commercial success despite critical acclaim. Shadow of the Colossus fixed this despite its many issues, and The Last Guardian has been in development hell originally planned to release on PS3. After showing up at numerous conventions, release dates changed, and promises failed to be kept, Sony Japan Studio just stopped giving us information. Finally, in 2016 The Last Guardian was released and was well received despite its poor sales.
The game doesn’t explain much when it comes to story or characters, it just kind of builds this adventure that the boy and Trico go on and their interactions help build their character in a way. You wake up in a cave and shortly after meeting Trico which is a hybrid bird of some sort, it’s never explained, and you just start going. There’s no real goal until towards the end of the game, and even the goal isn’t really explained. Like all other games in the series, it’s wide open to fan interpretation and sometimes this is better, but for this game, I didn’t feel a reason for these two to be together other than to complete this mysterious journey.
The game consists of puzzles and climbing segments both for the boy and Trico. This is where the frustrating controls and Trico’s awful AI come into play. When you’re playing as the boy and doing puzzles on foot it’s not too bad, but once you hop on Trico and start trying to direct him, heal him, and help him in combat is where things get difficult. The animations in the game are wonky and canned to a fault. The boy changes his animation based on what type of terrain he’s walking on such as stairs, thin walkways, and once he clings to something he doesn’t want to let go. When you’re trying to control Trico his animations are also very much canned and can’t be controller outside of “direction gestures” to make him jump, sit, swim, or push. The AI has trouble figuring out what to do half the time when Trico needs to jump up pillars or squeeze through a small hole. Many times I would point and shout and he wouldn’t budge or I would have to climb down and call him towards where I wanted then climb back up only to have him turn around for unknown reasons. This is incredibly frustrating and almost feels broken due to how finicky this mechanic is.
Climbing Trico is a chore as the boy will cling to him and won’t let go or he registers each part of his body as a different surface so in combat he can get stuck on parts of Trico and the camera is just atrocious. Many time the camera got stuck between the boy and a wall and I was blind to what was going on. When you’re in combat and statues are running around trying to grab you and throwing spears at Trico you need to climb him, remove the spears, heal him by rubbing the bloody feathers, then you can also pull heads off statues while they are down. If you get grabbed they try and take you to a blue door and then you die. When they grab the boy you must mash the face buttons to wriggle free which is an interesting mechanic. I don’t mind the idea of the combat system but it’s just frustrating with the awful controls and terrible camera and bad AI.
Outside of the occasional combat area and all the puzzles, there’s nothing to do. The world is a barren wasteland which is typical of this series and sets an ominous atmosphere, but I would have liked to have seen more of this world. It sounds like I’m harping on this game, but it’s quite enjoyable outside of all these flaws due to how incredibly unique this experience is. When the game does work it can be a beautiful thing to behold. The game is fantastically gorgeous with amazing art with every turn of the camera. The saturated whites and greys mixed with the bloom effects just looks gorgeous and stays true to the art style of this series. However, it does take its toll on the PS4 hardware. The game runs in the low 20’s throughout most of the game making this almost like a slideshow unless you have the PS4 Pro you won’t ever see 30FPS unless you are indoors. Even on the Pro, in 4K, the game still dips into the 20’s but not as often. I don’t recommend playing this on anything other than the PS4 Pro.
Overall, The Last Guardian is a unique experience with interesting locales and a loving relationship between boy and animal. Outside of the frustrating controls, awful AI, and wonky animations, there’s something to love here and experience that’s unique to the PlayStation console that you can’t get anywhere else. The game runs about 8 hours or so, it’s not very long, and sadly a lot of the length is getting Trico to do what you want. If you have the patience and love the other two games in the series, this is something you don’t want to miss.