I never played Ico, but I loved loved loved Shadow of the Colossus. I still remember the feelings when I loaded it up, just the sense of scale and wonder, and the inevitable crushing emotional weight as the game entered its final acts. That’s actually sort of how I came into The Last Guardian, with the preconceived notion that the boy or Trico would die by the end of it. It’s just seemed like that’s what was going to happen. I won’t confirm if it does or doesn’t, that’s not how I roll, but that was how I felt going in.
A lot of reviewers are probably talking about how long the game took to come out, or problems with development, and to be honest I’ve never cared about any of that. Final product, that’s what matters to me. The Last Guardian is pretty light on story, and tells most of it through the environments, basic cutscenes, and some very little narrative. You start off knowing next to nothing, except that you are a boy, you’re in a cave and that there’s a very large wounded and shackled creature nearby, which you will find out later is named Trico. Your job is to release the creature from its shackles, heal it up and get out of the cave.
On the whole, this feels like a child’s world. I imagined the whole game as getting told as a kid’s dream, with a new pet, exploring places that don’t make a crazy amount of sense but are wondrous all the same. It’s about exploration, growing closer to your pet, teaching him a few tricks and tackling obstacles together. It’s sort of sweet in its innocence, even if there’s undertones of torture, death and other themes which resonate will something a bit more mature.
Trico’s a really interesting creature, even if they are often very frustrating. The movement, behaviours resonated with things I’ve seen in my own cat. The way it shies away from water, the way it eats, swipes away at enemies, even the way Trico wiggles their butt before a big jump, it’s all very animalistic and doesn’t feel alien in the way I thought it might. A lot of the animation is really great, as is the world itself. Unfortunately, Trico’s AI is not quite so good. Often I was stuck in puzzles just because I couldn’t work out what Trico needed to do, or they wouldn’t do what I wanted them to. This can be super frustrating when you get stuck because Trico didn’t do what you needed, so you assumed you were wrong, only to retry the same action a few minutes later and get it working first try.
The puzzles themselves are pretty decent though. They’re not always good, or even sometimes logical at all, but the world is designed in a way where the path forward is (mostly) easy to spot, and Trico and the boy will sometimes look where you’re meant to go next, which helps. There was times I was a bit lost, but they’re few and far between.
Camerawork is another annoyance though. Sometimes if you are on Trico’s back, the camera blacks out completely in tunnels if you get close to geometry, and it’ll flick around absurdly when you’re jumping sometimes. Let alone when action is going on, it’ll move around so you can’t see what the hell is going on. This causes me to restart checkpoints a few times, but with some wrestling you can keep it under control.
I didn’t talk much about the puzzles, or even how the game plays. Truth be told, there’s not an insane amount to say. You’re working with Trico to escape a place called “The Nest”, which is mostly a lot of old, crumbling ruins, with the aim of constantly moving up. Trico will fight against enemies, smash through walls, and jump between pillars. They will also get scared by the symbols of an eye, which you’ll need to destroy. All in all though, the world exists to show off huge vistas, and give you something to do to build up Trico’s trust, and it nails them both. The game looks gorgeous. The music also really accentuates those moments too, which orchestral pieces performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, the Trinity Boys Choir and London Voices.
There are many frustrating things about The Last Guardian. Puzzles aren’t always easy to navigate, Trico can be downright frustrating, the camera is a hassle, and sometimes it’s just not amazingly interesting. Deep down though, there’s a great coming-of-age story about a boy and his pet, which is sweet and enjoyable to witness. I don’t regret my time with the game, but I am glad it’s over.