The Last Guardian is an action-adventure puzzle game developed by Japan Studio and Gen Design, and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
It is the third entry in a spiritual trilogy that started with ICO: a beautiful minimalistic game that followed a young boy as he rescued a damsel in distress. It was followed by the similarly styled Shadow of the Colossus.
Unfortunately, The Last Guardian was released over ten years after the previous game. I remember seeing little snippets about it for years and thinking “Man, I really want to play this game.”
When it finally came out in 2016, I looked at it in the Playstation Store and thought…
With its release as part of the Playstation Plus Collection, which was free to PS5 owners, I’ve had the opportunity to play this game that I was excited for so long ago.
A Boy and his Trico
The premise for The Last Guardian is elegant in its simplicity. It’s about a young boy and a strange beast trying to escape from a mysterious tower. The relationship between the two is the focal point of the entire experience.
While they start off at odds with one another, they soon become completely dependent on each other to survive and escape the crumbling tower complex. The boy provides food and direction to the enormous creature (Trico) and Trico protects the boy and helps him traverse gaps and ledges that would have been unreachable otherwise.
Watching the bond between the two grow was the highlight of the game. In fact, it was basically the entire game. Since The Last Guardian is a minimalistic puzzle game, it really didn’t have much else going on, so it was nice that its two main characters were a joy to get to know.
Man’s Best Frenemy
Unfortunately, you have no direct control over Trico’s actions.
This is both amazing and terrible in equal measure. This means that something as simple as getting Trico to stand on its hind legs, so you can reach a high platform, was a bit like pulling teeth. This is especially true near the beginning of the game when you haven’t built up your relationship.
There does come a point when you develop the ability to give Trico basic commands like Jump, Push, or Stomp, but even then you may not get the results you want.
There were multiple times when all I wanted was for Trico to jump up on a pillar. Instead, he would jump in place. Cute, but not all that useful. I would hazard that at least a third of my playtime was spent pantomiming a jump and pointing in the direction of where I wanted him to go.
However, I think that this process was kind of the point of The Last Guardian. It was supposed to give you the feeling that you were dealing with a living, breathing creature that acted independently of the game. Boy howdy, did they succeed…
Despite my occasional (read: constant) frustration with Trico, my biggest gripe with The Last Guardian is actually with the level layout and controls.
It’s been a while since I’ve been this frustrated with a game because of anything other than sheer difficulty. The Last Guardian, however, brought me to the point of yelling at the screen simply because sometimes… I had no idea what to do.
There was one particular section near the end of the game where I found myself stuck with no apparent way out. I threw myself at every wall hoping that the boy would grab onto something so that I could move on.
I eventually broke down and looked at a Youtube video of the section I was in and saw that the solution was… to jump at the ledge that I’d already jumped at several times.
Now, I’ll admit that a couple of times I got stuck due to my own shortcomings, but more than once it was clunky controls that led to me not being able to get through a section on the first couple of tries.
Trico Come Home
Overall, The Last Guardian is a beautiful game with a fascinating–and often frustrating–mechanic at its core. Watching the bond between the boy and his monster is often heartwarming, and sometimes tragic, and the payoff is worth it in the end. While it is marred with clunky controls and some wonky camera work at times, it is well worth the time and effort to complete.
I’m giving The Last Guardian a 7.5/10 for being a very good boy…
Wait, no, I didn’t say “Jump” Trico… I said “A very good boy”… No. Stop jumping…
You know what? Now it’s 7/10.