Fans of PlayStation classics Ico and Shadow of the Colossus have been anticipating Fumito Ueda's next title, The Last Guardian, for years. After numerous delays, the game is actually releasing this week, and it's perhaps fitting that the game's design asks its players to once again have lots of patience. The Last Guardian is generally a well-received title (82 on Metacritic) but the one thing critics seemed to agree on is that it's downright frustrating to play at times.
As Phillip Kollar explains in his 7.5 out of 10 review on Polygon, controls and the game's wonky physics system means that The Last Guardian is "full of frustration."
"You're playing as an awkward kid, and the game goes out of its way to make it feel like it. He stumbles when he runs; he has trouble holding onto Trico's feathers with both hands. Good luck pushing a box in a straight line. And even though there's quite a bit of leaping from platform to platform in The Last Guardian, the main character's jumps are small, stiff and often difficult to judge," Kollar wrote.
"If the main character annoys because he moves exactly as you'd expect a little boy to, then Trico annoys because it acts exactly as you'd expect a cat to act. If the creature isn't refusing to move until you bring it food, it's casually ignoring your shouts from across the level. When I wasn't trying to motivate Trico forward, I spent much of the game riding on top of the creature, grasping onto its feathers for dear life as it leapt to faraway vantage points (much more gracefully than the main character ever could, at least)."
"It feels like the game is emulating real cat behavior by putting in some hidden timer before it will listen to you. It makes for a realistic depiction of my favorite house pet, but it's terrible gameplay"
Phillip Kollar, Polygon
Aggravatingly, Trico sometimes "may ignore your commands if it feels like it, which turns any puzzle that depends on the creature's help into an aggravating waiting game," Kollar continued. "I mean 'waiting game' quite literally, by the way. In numerous cases I would give up on a puzzle and set down the controller, turning away from the screen. When I turned back 10 or 15 minutes later, Trico would inexplicably, finally be in the position I had been trying to get it into when I gave up. It feels like the game is emulating real cat behavior by putting in some hidden timer before it will listen to you. It makes for a realistic depiction of my favorite house pet, but it's terrible gameplay."
Where the game succeeds, however, is in its depiction of Trico and the way in which the game gets the player emotionally invested in the creature and the evolving relationship between it and the boy. This is what is truly resonating with critics and it's why Time magazine gave the game a perfect score.
Time's Matt Peckham said, "Trico is a tour de force that feels years ahead of his time. There's never been a creature like him in a game. He trembles in pain, yawns when tired, wanders when bored, whip-shakes himself dry when wet, plays with his food, gazes at things he finds interesting (and that sometimes you might, too). He'll seek you out, lean down to nuzzle you, then if you dash off, chase you like a codependent pet, whining and frantically scanning for ways to get to you if you venture somewhere he can't.
"And when he's hurt, woe unto whatever's causing him pain, because here is a game that can summon genuine outrage without a trace of exposition. Here is an experience that earns your emotional involvement like an accreting tidal force, frighteningly powerful and often unexpectedly so. Here, at last, is an approach to the medium that understands empathy, and perhaps even what lies beyond."
Peckham, too, found that the game requires patience to play, but he saw that aspect as a reflection of real-life relationships. "Impatient players may balk at the way Trico sometimes ignores them, or how much time can pass before he'll act in accord with their wishes. That would be a mistake and a misreading. The game's contemplative sequences are as meaningful and essential as its fast and furious ones. Trico can be mercurial, adolescently willful and sometimes maddeningly stubborn, but he is always knowable. What he requires most is your patience, a virtue discarded by the handholding school of game design, an assumption provocatively challenged by Ueda throughout The Last Guardian," he noted.
" Trico is the undeniable star of the show, exhibiting believable physicality and emotional range, but the boy is a valuable lesson in how to be patient and resilient when faced with unforeseen challenge"
Peter Brown, GameSpot
The environments that Trico and the boy explore add to the game's immersion. Marty Silva, in his 8.8 review on IGN called them "nothing short of stunning," but when you go inside any of the structures, "many of the cramped interiors feel drab. Worse, they highlight The Last Guardian's glaring camera issues. Given that you're generally right next to a giant creature, be prepared for the camera to be completely blocked by screens full of feathers, walls, and foliage on a regular basis."
In the end, most reviewers were willing to forgive The Last Guardian's frustrating aspects because its moments of beauty are worth waiting for. As Peter Brown remarked in his 9 out of 10 review on GameSpot, "It isn't clear whether or not The Last Guardian means to be frustrating at times--if it's a concerted effort to test your patience for a lovable-yet-stubborn creature. Your affection for Trico and sympathy for both characters blossom nonetheless, culminating in an enrapturing series of revelations that cements your attachment to their personalities. Trico is the undeniable star of the show, exhibiting believable physicality and emotional range, but the boy is a valuable lesson in how to be patient and resilient when faced with unforeseen challenges.
"When the book closes on their story, it's hard not to open it up again and begin anew. The trials you overcome endear you to both characters, but the emotions Trico elicits make you want to give it another chance--to be the patient, effective partner it truly deserves."