The Video Gamer’s Experience – The Last Guardian Review

In the early 2000s, thanks to the growing popularity of video games and an appreciation for the entertainment medium moving beyond largely accepted stereotypes thanks in part to celebrities voicing their love for the interactive form of fiction (or even fiction based on fact) debates started springing up whether or not video games could be considered art. For gamers, one of the key positives to support their argument came courtesy of Team Ico’s Playstation 2 releases “Ico” and “Shadow of the Colossus” – two games focusing less on exploitative violence, and more on atmosphere and evoking true human emotion be it fear, loneliness, hope, salvation, redemption, and, usually, loss.

In 2007 it was announced a third game would come from Team Ico titled “The Last Guardian” – a game based on the relationship between a boy and a mythical creature unlike anything seen in a video game thus far. Yet, development woes came with such grand expectations & hopes that resulted in “The Last Guardian” not only getting delayed, but also pushed out of the release window of an entire console generation. Eventually Team Ico opted to release their latest intended piece of video game art on the Playstation 4. The road to “The Last Guardian’s” release was nothing short of bumpy and left this gamer – who had thoroughly enjoyed Team Ico’s previous offerings to the point “Shadow of the Colossus” is one of my favorite PS2 games of all time – worried, yet optimistic that all of the development woes wouldn’t hinder what could be another piece of art in video game form.


Did I Complete “The Last Guardian”?


Similar to their previously produced games, Team Ico doesn’t break the tradition of throwing the player via a single male protagonist into a desolate, yet majestic, potentially forbidden land. Rather than encountering an imprisoned princess like in “Ico” or trying to make a deal with an disembodied being such as the opening minutes of “Shadow of the Colossus”, “The Last Guardian’s” protagonist – an unnamed boy who appears to more of a child and less of a teenager – awakes to find himself stuck in a room with a chained, dog-like beast with stubbed horns, chicken feet, broken wings, and an electrified tail. Slowly but surely the boy helps free and feed this mammoth beast before their journey out of their ruined entombment begins.



Rather than stick to the gameplay style of Team Ico’s most recent release in “Shadow of the Colossus”, the developers returned to a format more in line with what is seen in “Ico”. But instead of being forced to practically carry around a helpless damsel, the boy and his newfound buddy eventually named “Trico” work hand-in-hand with each other to produce several satisfying and heart wrenching moments from start to finish – a finish that came for yours truly barely ten hours after I turned on the game for the first time. A replay came shortly after for trophy hunting and playthrough-recording purposes, lasting around seven hours. There’s a chance I’ll replay the game down the line to see if I can finish it under five hours for the game’s rarest trophy, but for now I’m completely satisfied with my time with Team Ico’s first new offering in over a decade.


Did “The Last Guardian” Live Up to the Hype?


For those who played through the game’s (potentially spiritual) predecessors, “The Last Guardian” will feel incredibly familiar. Controlling the unnamed boy, players can grab objects including barrels that will feed his companion, climb ledges and even decapitate the stone soldiers apparently possessed by a spirit unforeseen very similar to the adversaries in “Ico” who attempt to grab the boy and take him into a portal hidden behind unlockable doors. While the adolescent protagonist is the driving force behind the game’s progression, it’s Trico who proves to be reason for almost every success the boy attains (and even a few failures).

Trico’s new master has the ability to command the beast to perform certain actions such as jumping up or across great distances, destroying those aforementioned soldiers, and using its mouth or tail to catch the boy from descending to his death. Sometimes Trico being a safety net falls short, but it usually means the difference between restarting at a relatively convenient checkpoint or continuing on with their journey. But the relationship between man & beast isn’t just some glorified escort mission as Trico stands around and waits to be ordered. The first few hours, Trico is hesitant about following the boy and seems to be on a trek of his own that this human just so happens to be on the same route as the beast, and appears to be inadvertently helping. Slowly but surely Trico becomes more obedient and responds to commands quicker (or gives the boy hints as to what direction the player should take them). This growing bond also connects to the gameplay in various ways.



Almost immediately the player is introduced to the ability to remove spears from Trico by climbing atop it thanks to a control scheme similar to that of “Shadow of the Colossus”, and feeding Trico courtesy of barrels both obvious and hidden. The boy can calm Trico after a battle when the beast starts bucking in fury by rubbing it with the touch of a button (rubbing Trico also removes bloodstains from its feathers) – with different regions of Trico’s body producing different effects and successes. There are almost eye-like decorative pieces that put a great fear in Trico that the boy has to destroy usually by scaling grandiose locations to complete one of the game’s many puzzles (though not as deep or brain twisting as those seen in “Ico”), or even taking down enemies with a growing onslaught of simplistic attacks including a head-first tackle that would more than likely crack the boy’s skull than drop an enemy in real life. Trico can also shoot lightning from its tail courtesy of the mirror shield its master sports around for half of the game, but that proves to be more a game element addition than anything involving the overall narrative of the age-old tale featuring a boy and his animal best friend.



Sadly, Team Ico’s greatest hindrance in the developer’s quest for perfection has come back to haunt they yet again as the gameplay, while improved compared to their other offerings, still stumbles. While a majority of gamers have criticized Trico’s lackadaisical nature in following the boy’s commands, my experience was relatively free of stress once I got the hang of using the commands and how to be patient as I would with an actual animal. Most of my waiting time for Trico to follow orders rarely reached thirty seconds, let alone a minute. While getting used to Trico’s actions were mostly easy, the constant camera issues (especially in the more cramped interior buildings seen throughout the game) proved unbearable at times and caused several unnecessary deaths, elongated puzzles (you’ll never be able to push a box across a room in a straight line without resetting your position), and even moments where the screen went temporarily black because the camera cut into a wall – making it even more difficult to figure out where to go next. There were also moments when platforming outside where the camera hindered progression alongside the flailing style of the boy as he tried to jump from point to point. The option to grab onto Trico with the playable character can become frustrating as Team Ico implemented an auto-grab ability that turned out to be more upsetting than time saving as dropping off of Trico can prove to be an exercise in futility as hitting the “release” button will drop the boy a couple of inches before he instinctively clutches the beast – leading to some awkward moments of him swinging on the side of Trico’s tail that is already on the ground. There are a few more minor control issues such as swimming/diving and even combat, but the scenarios are so infrequent that they don’t necessarily tarnish the experience like the camera, auto-grab, or the boy’s faux-realistic body movement do on a constant basis.



Though initially to be released on the Playstation 3, “The Last Guardian” doesn’t greatly suffer from the graphical infidelities of what is essentially a ported game. While the game looks surprisingly good (not great or on par with other graphical beauties released in 2016), optimization isn’t this game’s strong suit as frame rate drops are something the player will have to get used to throughout. Thankfully, a majority of the slowdown happens during times of simply moving through a room, and not during hectic do or die moments. When it comes to sound, Team Ico has always been masterful in their audio presentation. The music is usually based around melodic and exquisite piano sequences & horn playing, though ramps up during grand, Hollywood-esque moments such as Trico trying to scarily scale a decaying building; but the sounds such as Trico pitifully crying when it realizes its master has to move ahead without it, or the blustery wind reminding both boy and beast that they are dangerously high in the sky are even more profound than what would usually be the basis of a memorable soundtrack.

Like Team Ico games of the past, this is truly a memorable journey that mixes the surreal world of video game fiction with emotional ties based on real life experiences only failing to reach gaming perfection due to control and camera issues unfortunately connected with the studio for the past two gaming generations.


Should You Play “The Last Guardian”?


“The Last Guardian” is, essentially, an emotional roller coaster due to the gameplay actually helping the overall story and atmosphere that is bred thanks to the simple premise of a boy and his pet/friend/guardian growing more comfortable and, most importantly, dependent on him just as much as the protagonist needs Trico. Unfortunately, the same flaws of previous Team Ico offerings including tank-like, sluggish controls, AI complications (mostly due to the actions of Trico and not the enemies), and a camera that can prove hazardous especially during platforming sequences both inside and outdoors still exist. Yet, the negative intricacies that make up the entire experience don’t completely hurt the highs felt when cinematic moments (both pre-rendered and not) somehow pale in comparison to the moments of serene downtime such as when Trico takes an opportunity to bathe itself in a nearby pool and the like. “The Last Guardian” is nowhere near perfect, yet hits all the right notes from such a niche developer as Team Ico that the group of creators have been trying to achieve with their previous two releases. If you’ve played “Ico” or “Shadow of the Colossus”, you’ll absolutely love this. For those who haven’t or didn’t appreciate what was offered during the PS2 era from Team Ico, this might not impress or change your opinion about what Team Ico can and probably will produce in the future respectively. Even if you’re in the latter category, “The Last Guardian” warrants at least a rental just to get a good idea what this game offers because a majority of what is seen in the first two or three hours is completely indicative of an overall charming experience.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>