In 2005, development studio Team Ico released Shadow of the Colossus for the PlayStation 2. More than 11 years later, Team Ico has finally released its next game.
The Last Guardian is here. After announcing the game for PlayStation 3 in 2009, you can play it tomorrow on your PlayStation 4. If you’re wondering what the hell it plays like, imagine a mashup of Shadow of the Colossus and Ico — the studio’s first game. It’s all about escaping an elaborate ruins as a young boy while dealing with a giant, friendly beast named Trico who looks like a bird, dog, and cat all mixed together. That all comes down to puzzle solving and figuring out how to best use the capabilities of Trico, who is your new feathered friend.
Those gameplay mechanics feel simultaneously unstuck from time and exactly what I want from a game right now.
What you’ll like
A return to a different time for gaming
Gaming has changed a lot since the PlayStation 2. In 2016, variety in gaming is starting to feel like it means you can play a shooter with mechs, a shooter set during World War I, or a sci-fi version of that annual military shooter. In that environment, The Last Guardian’s gameplay feels out of place.
You spend most of the game trying to figure out what you must do to get both you and Trico past obstacles so you can get past the next set of obstacles. To do that, you’ll activate levers, move blocks, and climb up walls. But you’ll also need to give commands to Trico, who will jump, attack, and more when you ask him to do so.
On top of that foundation, Team Ico has built a quiet, deliberately paced adventure that doesn’t really feel like anything else you can play today — at least not as a triple-A, exclusive console game. The game isn’t really about combat (Trico does most of the fighting). It doesn’t have any hooks for microtransactions. It doesn’t have long, highly produced cutscenes to add a film-style narrative.
What it does have is clever puzzles, interesting characters, and a respect for the player. Team Ico built Trico and this world for you, and they just want to give you the room to explore all of that on your own. For me, that’s sweet relief from a busy year of gaming that has a lot of interesting experiences that play similarly to one another.
Trico behaves like an animal
Getting to know Trico is the element of The Last Guardian. If the studio explained that it spent most of the last decade perfecting the animations, sound design, and behaviors of the game’s starring animal, I would believe it.
Trico is both independent and loyal. As you enter a new room, he might start by exploring it before returning to see what you’re up to. If he smells food, he’ll make noise to let you know. If you pick up a barrel of his feed and try to walk away from him, he will purposefully bump into you to make you drop his delicious meal.
If you leave the game idle, Trico might come to you and begin nuzzling. Or he might find a puddle and start rolling around. If you encounter enemies, Trico will attack, but he’ll freak out after the battle. The only way to calm the animal is to pet him.
If you have a pet, you’re likely going to find a lot of this familiar and endearing. He feels like his own lifeform, and that made me connect with him.
It has a unique look
I also love the game’s visuals. This might sound like an insult, but it looks like the HD remaster of a PS2 game. I actually mean that as a great thing. The characters are well animated, but the boy and Trico look like the game is covering them up with a bunch of modern effects to make them look more like something you’d get in 2016. That gives the game a striking look that actually ends up standing out from the crowd.
What you won’t like
You’re still going to have to fight with Trico’s A.I.
Trico often behaves as if he were alive, but that illusion begins to breakdown when you need to get the creature to perform a certain task. You can command the beast by holding down the R1 button to ask it to move in a certain direction. While still holding down the R1 button, you can then press a button like jump to convince Trico to jump over something himself.
In one area, I struggled mightily to get Trico lined up properly so he would jump over a gap. But I couldn’t get him to square up to the chasm properly. Instead, he would begin walking toward me like he was confused, and that was frustrating .
I’m glad that Sony saw this one through. The publisher could’ve canceled it even in the face of fan hype, but it stuck with Team Ico and gave The Last Guardian a chance to wow fans.
The final product doesn’t feel like a 2016 game. Instead, it’s this strange adventure that invites you to get lost in its world. I love that, and I think anyone who loved Team Ico’s previous games will appreciate what they find here.
Sony sent a copy of The Last Guardian to GamesBeat for the purpose of this review. It is available now for $60.