|Dev: Sony JAPAN Studio|
|Release: December 6, 2016|
|Players: 1 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Fantasy Violence|
by Becky Cunningham
Many people claim that you can't tame a cat, but that's not true. As a certified crazy cat lady, I've been able to train several cats to perform simple actions like sitting and staying or getting off a surface on command. They obey... usually. As much as I'm proud of my adorable furry friends, however, I wouldn't want to count on their obedience if I were stuck in an ancient ruin with them and they were about twenty times my size. That is the wrong kind of cat-herding, but it's exactly what you're charged with in The Last Guardian.
You're a little boy who wakes up in a cave-like prison. A huge, man-eating beast is chained next to you and you discover that you've got weird runes etched all over your skin. Your mission is to tame the beast, solve platforming puzzles in order to get out of your prison, and discover what in the world is going on. It's not easy when you're small, clumsy, and probably tasty-looking, but what are you going to do?
The beast, Trico, is definitely the star of the show. It's a bizarre amalgamation of various animals that is rendered in stunningly beautiful detail. Its feathers fluff and ripple with its movements, and its eyes tell you all you need to know about its current mood. You earn its trust – a bit too quickly – by feeding it with barrels of magical blue goo that both sustain it and help it grow. As the two of you look for a way out of your ruined castle/prison, your relationship builds and you're able to convince Trico to do more and more things for you, though the beast will never fully be under your control and can even be dangerous to you at times. It's a wonderful concept that is definitely the highlight of the game.
As we've come to expect from Team Ico, the atmosphere in The Last Guardian is stark but lovely. It can be breathtaking during the segments that take place in nature, but I found the interior spaces to be too sparse and uninspiring much of the time. The ruins feel a bit like a Dark Souls castle without the constant threat of death – all brown and gray and a bit monotonous.
Equally sparse is the sound design. The game is largely music-free, so sound effects are your only companion, establishing mood and providing hints about Trico's mood and whether you're on the right track to your next objective (via an out-of-place beep that feels like it might have been a last-minute addition).
It's in getting to that next objective where the gap between The Last Guardian's concept and its execution starts to open. You're playing a small boy, and the idea is that you move like one, too. The boy doesn't climb so much as clamber, and doesn't jump so much as fling himself in a general direction. The controls in general are meant to replicate that feeling of being a mostly-helpless small human with coordination issues, so they're sluggish and imprecise. There's almost no HUD, with contextual cues popping up very sparingly as you traverse the ruins, leaving you to stumble about looking for the single way out of your current area and onto the next one.
It doesn't help that the camera has issues with the game's setup. You're often trapped in close quarters with a huge beast, causing the camera to stick nothing but brickwork or a mass of feathers on the screen. Where are you in all this? It has swung about so wildly that you won't know.