The Last Guardian review
Cats are assholes. This is, in fact, one of the fundamental appeals of cat ownership -- no matter how deep your bond with the furry little blighter is, your cat will, ultimately, do its own thing most of the time, no matter how well you think you have it trained.
The Last Guardian's greatest achievement -- and, at some points, its greatest flaw -- is that Trico truly feels like an asshole cat. Sometimes it won't follow your commands, like a right proper asshole. It'll climb up onto a ledge and jump back down again, like an asshole cat that can't decide whether it wants to go in or out. It'll be an asshole when you try to feed it, unless you put the food in a spot so specific that you couldn't have possibly intuited by logic what it wanted you to do.
Trico is a big stupid asshole cat-thing, with wings that don't quite work and giant talons that you can easily knock you over with. This is the cat equivalent of Marmaduke, who, as has been firmly established, is an asshole. And like every asshole cat I've ever had, I love Trico to bits.
Trico's believability is a big deal. In any game that involves interacting with an animal, there are clear algorithms in place: get the dog's 'happiness' meter to rise and it'll help you in combat, feed your Charizard enough candy and it'll be a bit more resilient, that sort of thing. Trico will react to your treatment as well -- a good pat will calm it down, hitting it with a barrel will make it whine. Treating Trico well will, generally speaking, make it a more reliable companion. But Trico never loses its capriciousness, its spirit, the asshole side that all good cat-things have.
Part of this believability comes down to the animation, which is both intricate and familiar. The way Trico boogies slightly before a big jump is perfect, as is the way it bats at the barrel of food that's right in front of it, dammit, so why won't it just pick it up and eat it? Trico's design, its vocabulary, its minor movements, right down to the way it blinks its dark, weepy eyes, all make the creature seem real. Trico feels significant; just stopping to give it a good scratch behind the ear can be immensely satisfying.
This is good, because interacting with Trico, trying to convince it to do the things you need it to do, makes up at least half of The Last Guardian. From the outset, the game doesn't give you a lot of information -- you're a young boy who wakes up next to a giant beast, with no memory of where you are or how you got there. The beast (Trico) is chained up and volatile, but once you feed and free it, Trico becomes your companion on the journey back home. You can climb all over it, and you spend a lot of time clinging to its back as it leaps around.
The Last Guardian operates like a puzzle-focused adventure game, in that progress forward is usually a matter of figuring out which levers to pull and which direction to head in. It's rarely particularly devious, and figuring out what to do next is more often a matter of closely observing your environment than actually interrogating a problem. The closest the game comes to truly abstract puzzles are the ones that involve commanding or willing Trico into performing a specific action, which isn't always easy.
Sometimes, Trico's pet-like qualities are charming. You need to give it a pat to get it going, or repeat yourself a few times (early in the game you unlock a few suggestions that you can present to Trico, although the 'please jump' action is by far the most often required). When it works, the bond between you and Trico strengthens, and when it doesn't, it still usually feels natural -- annoying, yes, but reasonable. Your relationship with Trico is the fundamental focus of the game to such an extent that most of the puzzles and scenarios you find yourself dealing with are designed to influence it.
The Last Guardian is walking on a thin tightrope here -- make Trico too difficult to command and you'll lose the player. This happened to me a few times, but one incident stood out as particularly infuriating. I needed to get Trico to dive into an underwater cave, pulling me along with it, an action I'd performed without incident minutes earlier. It took me a full twenty minutes of furious commanding, as Trico repeatedly ignored me, turned around, climbed back onto dry land and sat around looking confused. A few times it dived down, but ignored the cave completely.
A quick Google search revealed that the best way to deal with this was to restart from the last checkpoint, which would put Trico just where I needed it, dive down myself, and line things up so that when Trico came after me I could grab my furry companion as it passed -- not easy, with the game's awkward swimming controls. This took about eight attempts to get right, because Trico repeatedly swam right past me without a care.
Like I said, Trico is an asshole.
The game's camera is also an asshole, as are, at times, the controls. There are clear signs that The Last Guardian underwent a particularly difficult development period, with certain elements of the game feeling outdated or poorly thought out. It's frequently difficult just to figure out where you are in relation to your environment, and while the boy is thankfully unable to walk or run off the side of cliffs or tightropes -- if your feet are on the ground, you're usually safe -- there are plenty of moments of frustration.
Most ill-judged of all are The Last Guardian's enemies, who simply don't feel like a good fit. Every now and then some ghoulish suits of armour will come along and try to drag you away, and while it's largely up to Trico to beat them down for you, as the game progresses you become more involved in dealing with the increasingly large hordes. It's a shame that the developers felt the need to slip in combat at all, though, because most of the time it gets in the way of the game's real pleasure -- the joy of hanging out with Trico.
The Last Guardian is a game with plenty of problems, but by the end of it I felt genuinely attached to the world and characters in a way that doesn't often happen for me. I felt sad, in fact, at the prospect of leaving as the final cutscene kicked in. If this is a one-and-done game, and it probably is for me, then my time with Trico is over; a few days later I find myself genuinely missing the beast. There were many games released this year that were, by several metrics, better than The Last Guardian, but this is the only one to actually make my heart ache with loss. For all the times when it wouldn't just make the bloody jump I needed it to make, I came to love Trico, and odds are you'll love the big asshole too.