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The Last Guardian [2016 -- SIE Japan Studio]

Started by Starfox, May 27, 2023, 04:43 PM

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Originally published on March 25, 2018 by Doc_Brown

While Shadow of the Colossus may be one of my favorite games of all time, I've been a fan of game designer Fumito Ueda since the release of Ico all the way back in 2001.  His games are often cited as examples in the "games as art" debate, thanks to their fairy tale-like aesthetic and minimalist approach to game design.  Which is what makes it so disappointing that his long-awaited third title, The Last Guardian, ultimately comes across as the weakest of the three.

For as fondly as Ico is remembered, I think that has to do more with how it looks, feels, and sounds than how it plays.  The actual gameplay isn't anything we haven't seen before (environmental navigation with some basic combat and puzzle-solving thrown in), nor for that matter does it do a better job at those things than other games.  Shadow of the Colossus, on the other hand, remains unique to this day, sixteen boss fights involving basically platforming on the giant creatures in question.

The Last Guardian is essentially a mix of those two games: environmental navigation while platforming on a giant creature named Trico.  But the game has a terrible habit of not telling you things.  Many of the navigational puzzles involve solutions you won't think of because they haven't bothered to show you such a thing is even possible.  There are even a few points where there is no solution, but the game will make you fumble around for several minutes until a cutscene plays and then the puzzle becomes solvable.

The problem is compounded by the game simulating "realistic" behavior from Trico, which includes him not always doing what you ask.  So you'll tell Trico to jump to a platform, he won't do it, and then you'll think maybe that isn't the solution so you waste time trying to figure out what else it could possibly be.  Or you'll tell Trico to jump up to the next platform but he somehow misinterprets your command and jumps down to the previous one instead.

Speaking of which, riding Trico can be a chore at times.  Unlike Shadow of the Colossus, you don't need to hold down a button to hang onto him.  But this means there will be many occasions where you'll try to dismount, either by dropping or jumping off, and you'll only move a few feet before grabbing hold of him again.  And as big as Trico is in comparison to the structures around him, the camera has an annoying habit of getting stuck in the geometry when you're in close proximity to both.

In the end, The Last Guardian is more frustrating than fun.  While it's not without its charms, most of those are common among Fumito's games in general.  When the game was over, I was happier about not having to play it anymore than I was about the experience I'd had.  And afterwards, when I looked at the game's trophy listing and read through the descriptions, I exclaimed multiple times, "What?  I didn't even know you could do that!"

Guess what it means!