2009. We have Swine Flu and Black Saturday, James Cameron’s Avatar is released, and we lose Patrick Swayze and the King of Pop. At E3, a small game from the developers of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus is officially announced – The Last Guardian.
That was seven years ago. The Last Guardian was originally pegged for a PlayStation 3 release in 2011, until all hell ensued. The game’s director, Fumito Ueda, departed Sony, as did other Team Ico members, further delaying the game.
Eventually reintroduced at E3 2015, and following one final delay for old time’s sake, we can finally say what many thought may never happen – The Last Guardian hits consoles this month. Yeah, we can’t believe it either.
The game revolves around a young boy and his relationship with a beast called Trico – the easiest way to describe him is the unholy offspring of Harry Potter’s Buckbeak and The Last Airbender’s Appa, with a little personality of How to Train Your Dragon’s Toothless thrown in. We got to play about an hour of E3 code recently, and honestly, from what little we saw, it’s infuriatingly endearing.
Our protagonist is a young boy, awakened in a cave with no memory of how he got there and a bunch of weird tribal-ish tattoos all over his body. He finds he isn’t alone, however, when he notices old mate Trico chained to the floor nearby, wounded and hungry.
The Last Guardian literally throws you in the deep end. The first level is a thinly-veiled tutorial, teaching you game mechanics by forcing you to act them out yourself, like carrying barrels of food to Trico and scaling walls.
Your relationship with your newly found hound-bird hybrid is, understandably, hesitant at first, as he looks powerful enough to relieve your body of its head at a moment’s notice. Once you begin to feed the beast and tend to the spears in his body, he becomes a little friendlier, and you earn the ability to summon him when the need arises.
As the little boy, you can climb all over Trico, and his interaction with the world is independent of your actions, so he’ll go over and investigate something and more often than not point you in the right direction if you’re looking a bit lost.
If you caught any of the E3 footage of The Last Guardian, you would have mostly seen grabs of Trico and his little avatar following him around, directing him to places and yelling indiscernibly. What we learned in our playthrough is that Trico can actually shoot lightning from his tail. Maybe that’s what we’ve been waiting all these years for? It comes in handy if you need to disrupt large piles of barrels or make a hole in a wall.
The further we went in the demo the stronger the relationship between Trico and boy became. Eventually, our feathered accomplice would leap over large distances with us in tow to investigate a ruin. While much of this investigation is usually the player running around climbing structures and vines, there are some points where you just need to jump up on your companion and get him to show you the way.
In the second part of the playthrough, we learn that Trico isn’t a fan of glass dreamcatchers, so it’s up to the player to navigate the ruins and remove as many as he can in order for the pair to advance, usually by solving some sort of intricate puzzle. If you’re chasing a puzzle comparison, think something Tomb Raider or Uncharted-esque; it’s a lot of working out how far you can jump and what heights you can fall from without actually dying.
After our session, we left the Sony offices that afternoon with two thoughts clearly in our minds. Firstly, shock at the fact that this game is finally tangible, and not just an E3 myth that we never thought would see the light of day. And secondly, love for what we just played through. Honestly, the relationship you forge with Trico is adorable, which only leaves us concerned as to how this story is going to end.
The Last Guardian undoubtedly has potential – after all, it’s had as many years to prepare its case. It’s time to face the jury.