A title that has been 10 years in the making, skipped an entire generation of consoles, has been the topic of many a discussion about whether it would even see the light of day is finally upon us. The reason why Fumito Ueda’s latest title has been so highly anticipated is because it unmistakably shares its DNA with his two other classic titles; Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. So much is apparent at a cursory glance at the title but the question is, with over a decade of troubled development time, does The Last Guardian live up to the masses of hype built up over the years?
A Generational Leap?
Some of you may be aware of the fact that The Last Guardian was originally intended to be released on the PlayStation 3. Certainly at the time of its reveal in or around 2007, the title’s visuals that had a very distinctive flavour of the studio’s other works, were impressive. Naturally you would assume that, having now been developed for a whole new generation of consoles with considerably more power that the title would look leaps and bounds better than what was shown almost a decade ago on ageing hardware. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. Whilst the game undoubtedly has seen improvements in texture and other details, these changes are rather conservative. Ueda’s classic visual style however does help alleviate the problems the game lacks in terms of raw visual fidelity. The art-style can lend itself to some really picturesque moments and set-pieces and the lighting adds to the overall atmosphere in the game.
The frame-rate’s inconsistencies will be very apparent
What is surprising considering the fact that the visuals have not seen a massive boost is that the game’s performance, at least on the standard PS4, is not that great either; with it chugging along at 20-30fps. The frame-rate’s inconsistencies will be very apparent especially during more busier scenes where these can even drop down to single figures, stuttering and momentarily freezing. Its not exactly a deal breaker but it is something that I did not expect, especially for a title in the works for the previous generation of consoles.
Noodle Boy and Trico
The Last Guardian is a puzzle action game whereby you control an unnamed kid, whom I hereby dub ‘noodle boy’ for reasons that I will elaborate on later. You encounter a creature called Trico that looks like the product of a ménage à trois between a cat, a dog and some sort of bird. The premise and the story are rather simple; you befriend this unholy creature and you look for a means of escape from this mysterious looking ancient place. Noodle Boy and Trico will have to work together and cooperate to overcome their foes which happen to be statues, mirrors and great heights.
As a result of the aforementioned premise, a lot of the puzzles simply revolve around finding ways to get out of areas as you progress further into the game. Finding platforms to jump on, crevices to climb through or activating switches to open new areas, all this appears to be decidedly last gen. I found none of the puzzles particularly clever aside from one where you use a cart and Trico to propel yourself into the air to access an area above.
There is an obvious attempt to really push the feeling of co-dependence and the unique strengths of the two protagonists.
Trico is obviously shit scared of the Illuminati and and in particular, mirrors that have the symbol of an eye as he mostly always is paralysed in fear of them. This then leaves Noodle Boy to come to the rescue to find ways to smash these mirrors up, usually by chucking them off great heights. There is an obvious attempt to really push the feeling of co-dependence and the unique strengths of the two protagonists. It definitely works and as you have most likely guessed, the bond grows stronger as you progress further into the story. These kind of puzzles pretty much comprise the entirety of the game. Don’t expect any kind of ingenious game design whatsoever.
The camera had a strange fascination with Trico’s anus
Controlling Noodle Boy however really is grating far too often. The camera angles appear to be constantly fighting against you and the ineptitude of Noodle Boy to carry out simple commands can be incredibly frustrating, particularly in sequences where time is of the essence and you’re trying to tend to your chimera friend. Near the end of the game there were instances where I wanted to fling my controller at the television. Couple that with the fact that in busy scenes, the frame rate can drop, and you will find yourself ungraciously jumping off a massive height to your death. Sometimes the fade to black happens before Noodle Boy smashes into the ground but the sadist in me wanted to watch it happen because of how frustrated I was.
You really feel like you need the patience of a saint sometimes. Or some marijuana to dull the pain this kid routinely inflicts upon you as he flails around like a hopeless singular noodle in a hurricane.The stark contrast in size between Trico and Noodle Boy can exacerbate these problems too. The camera had a strange fascination with Trico’s anus, often zooming in to it to an uncomfortable degree. Noodle Boy in comparison then looks like an unwelcome growth on Trico and I wonder whether Trico would even like the kid were it not for Noodle’s Boys incredible repertoire of talents such as picking things from his body and smashing mirrors.
How much you enjoy The Last Guardian depends on how much you let yourself get swallowed in by the charm the game tries so hard to propagate. The concept is hardly fresh; a boy and his unlikely companion- this trope has been played out a lot. The thing is, this game just seems dated in concept and gameplay; it’s effects would probably have been far more profound if it released half a decade ago. Indie titles have achieved this kind of emotional connection but with far more proficiency or nuanced execution of gameplay elements. If you can forgive its shortcomings and allow yourself to be enveloped in the charm of the game then you can add a point to the score. Otherwise, TLG feels like an exercise in frustration with the reward being developing a peptic ulcer at the end where you might just shed a tear.