Nut Load. Mini reviews of games old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional shock face.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Last Guardian (2016)

Genre: Adventure / Puzzle / 3D Platformer  |  Players: 1  |  Developers: Team Ico / genDESIGN / SIE Japan Studio

The many delays and behind the scenes troubles that plagued the game's development are well-documented elsewhere, so I'll skip all of that. My stance can be summed up with a familiar phrase, 'better late than never'. And in a strange way the delay makes TLG more special to me, because it delivers the kind of one-player PS2-era experience that is becoming rare in titles on modern consoles.

But, subjective silver lining aside, there's a drawback to deal with. While not much of a problem at the beginning, what's required of you as you progress deeper into the game causes the camera mechanic to feel outdated. Because it has to acknowledge both the boy and the giant cat-bird-dog creature (named Trico) featured on the cover art, it can favour one when you need it to favour the other. It moves freely with the right stick, but in cramped spaces its functionality takes a hit, leading to frustration, and the game features quite a lot of such places.

Trico feels more alive and has more personality than any collection of pixels should conceivably have. Equal parts ferocious and timid, Trico is a genuine wonder, and it only takes about twenty minutes of play to become completely attached to its presence. The creature has its own mind, it's not an empty-headed steed, so when you want it to go someplace you'll have to encourage it, which often means assessing its mood and influencing it accordingly. If it's hungry, feed it; if it's frightened, soothe it, etc. Judge well and you'll have smoother sailing.

If you enjoyed Ueda's previous games, namely ICO (2001) and Shadow of the Colossus (2005), then the chances are good that you'll enjoy TLG, too. The world has the same kind of ancient, historically rich beauty as its predecessors; the same kind of forward progression and puzzle solving as ICO; and the necessary interdependence of the two main characters is once again where the heart of the story resides. You play as the young boy, but if you're an animal lover in real life then the winged Trico is likely where the majority of your sympathies will lie.

The many set pieces that punctuate the emotional journey are heart in throat experiences that I'll remember and no doubt relive for years to come. Takeshi Furukawa's music often heightens them, periodically adding mysterious, exotic, sympathetic and dramatic tones that help bring what's important to the surface.

4 nutritious barrels out of 5