When I moved to The Bay Area in mid-2011 to become a full-time member of the games press, Fumito Ueda's The Last Guardian seemed just around the corner. To me, it felt like the perfect time to join the industry; I'd finally be entering a field I struggled to break into for years, and playing the follow-up to Shadow of the Colossus I'd been anticipating for even longer.
Of course, we all remember what that one writer guy said about the best-laid plans of mice and men. Following its planned release date, The Last Guardian would soon slip into development limbo, never to be seen again. Or so we thought. The game received a grand re-unveiling during Sony's 2015 E3 conference, and director Fumito Ueda himself even made an appearance—looking particularly happy and healthy, at that. But if you told me in 2011 I wouldn't actually get a chance to play The last Guardian until literally yesterday, I probably would have been anticipating a lengthy coma in my future.
Needless to say, it's kind of a surreal experience to finally sit down and play The Last Guardian—at least, for the first five minutes. But, after the initial shock, it doesn't take long to wrap your mind around what Fumito Ueda is trying to do. While his former works, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, each strove for remarkably different kinds of gameplay, The Last Guardian brings Ueda back to his 2001 roots. It's essentially Ico 2, but with an AI companion much more intelligent and necessary than Shadow of the Colossus' Agro. Granted, it's slightly disappointing that Udea didn't forge ahead with an idea as bold and unique as Shadow, but only because he's set the bar impossibly high for himself.
My 45-minute hands-on session with The Last Guardian tasked me with solving a handful of navigation puzzles, that, like Ico, have you figuring out how to travel from point A to point B with two characters who possess different capabilities. The unnamed boy character can scramble, climb, carry objects, and interact with various switches and objects, while Trico—his dog/bird/dragon companion—is simply big. Well, there's a little more to him than that: His sheer size makes it possible to reach places the boy could never go on his own, and he can snatch you out of the air with his mouth or tail during some extremely precarious jumps.
Even though his hugeness is his biggest asset, most of the puzzles I worked through involved finding ways to move Trico's massive physical form down the intended path. After climbing to the top of his head to make it over a wall and into a gated-off area, I had to signal to him to pull a nearby chain, which raised part of the wall I could then shove an object under. The latter puzzles I encountered mainly dealt with finding ways to shatter or remove stained glass windows from the environment, which Trico wants to avoid like the plague (for reasons that will likely be explained later).
From the outset, it's clear The Last Guardian wants you to think of Trico as a living, breathing animal. Just as Shadow of the Colossus' Agro had a mind of his own—meaning he didn't feel like a vehicle—Trico sniffs around, mills about, and generally looks extremely curious about what you're doing. That said, he definitely feels like another entity instead of just an extension of your controller. The boy can draw his attention to objects by pointing at things while adorably jogging in place, but often, it takes Trico a bit to understand what you're trying to tell him.
And since he can't talk, Trico's body language has to do much of the communicating. When you need him to help you clear a seemingly impossible jump, he clearly sits at attention to signal he's ready to help—even if he most often melodramatically snatches you out of the air at the last second. Thankfully, you don't need to babysit Trico at all: He generally knows when to follow you, and most of the instructions you give him (in the demo, at least) involve very specific interactions with the environment. Like Agro, he's mostly on auto-pilot until you need him.
While 30 minutes of The Last Guardian isn't nearly enough time to draw a comprehensive conclusion—I didn't fight a single enemy, for instance—my time with it definitely had me walking away happy. Most importantly, it didn't feel like a last-generation project hastily refurbished to make back some of its development costs: What I played doesn't look astoundingly different from its seven-year-old E3 trailer, yet it also doesn't look like a remastered version of a PS3 game.
But even if The Last Guardian can't possibly meet the wildly unrealistic expectations it's built over the past near-decade, it'll be great to live in a world where Fumito Ueda can finally get this damned game out of his system and move onto the next big thing. And if said next big thing takes another 10 years to stew in development, so be it.