I need to preface this review with a disclaimer: if you are a person for whom clunky controls are a deal-breaker, you might want to watch a Let’s Play on YouTube. If you can tolerate poor mechanics for the sake of an utterly amazing absolutely everything else, then by all means, play this game.
I’ve been waiting for The Last Guardian for a decade. Shadow of the Colossus is one of my all-time favorite games, right up there with Chrono Trigger and Vagrant Story, so I was eager to see more from the same team. I even bought a PS3, knowing that TLG was going to be exclusive on it. And then it was delayed, and discarded, and revived, and delayed. I was certain it would never come out, and even if it did, it would be like Duke Nukem Forever, so when it finally released, I was skeptical.
This game is an experience. Team ICO has kept up their traditions of immersive worlds, characters you become deeply attached to, stark beauty, amazing music, and incredible attention to detail. You play as a young boy who wakes up in the open next to a chained monster. The monster, called a trico, is gravely wounded and terrified of you in spite of being many times your size. With a little effort you can befriend the trico, set it free, and begin a pattern of helping each other escape.
The trico is what I affectionately refer to as a puppy cat bird, and it’s instantly endearing. It’s been imbued with very realistic characteristics for its base animals, so you can see its ears perking and swiveling towards sounds, watch the cat-like shimmy before it jumps and the fluffing of feathers when it’s agitated, hear it whine and howl like a dog when you leave it alone, and laugh when it gets distracted by doves or bats at dangling chains. It will nuzzle you affectionately, calm when you pet it, and even go to sleep after enough time soothing it. It can also shoot lightning from its tail, so there’s that.
A quick dive into why the controls are so bad: this is primarily a platform/puzzle-solving game. To do that, you need to be able to reliably jump, focus the camera, and perform actions. I completed this game in about fourteen hours, and I suspect that if the controls actually worked properly, it would have taken eight at the most. There’s a lot of frustration involved when you try to step somewhere, but are one pixel too far away and perform a fear of falling animation, or when you’re trying to balance on a narrow ledge and the camera suddenly swoops around, changing the direction of your movement, or when you’re trying to pull a lever, but the game decides that no, you actually wanted to jump on a nearby platform.
If you can muddle through, though, it’s absolutely incredible and will linger in your mind. Pay attention to small details, like the opening credits, remember the whole of your experience, and while there will still be mysteries, there will be fewer of them. Just enough mystery left to fascinate.
If you still can’t tell, I really, really love this game.