When You Finally Play The Last Guardian, Take Your Time
It turns out we’ll have to wait a little bit longer to play The Last Guardian, Sony’s beautiful sequel to its classic puzzle adventure games Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. The PlayStation 4 game was just bumped back to December 6.
In Tokyo this week, prior to the opening of the Tokyo Game Show, I got the chance to play just a little bit more of the long-in-the-works adventure, which stars a young boy and his mysterious giant dog-bird-cat buddy Trico. At E3 this year I got to play the game’s opening scenes; this demo takes place a bit later and taught me more about how Last Guardian‘s puzzles will work. Be prepared to stop and observe, but also to be patient.
The game’s standard conceit is that you, as the boy, need to figure out how to navigate through its pathways alongside Trico. At times, you’ll need to use him to move on, like by climbing up his tail or onto his back and using him to get to higher places. Other times, you’ll easily move forward—slipping through a grate, for example—and you’ll need to figure out how to get Trico through as well.
In the first room of the demo, we had to figure out that Trico would occasionally jump into a position in the room that would allow us to climb higher and exit the chamber. But since he was wandering around the area, it wasn’t obvious exactly where that position was, or where you should be to take advantage of it. I tried to solve the puzzle by just running around by myself, but it was only when I stood back and watched Trico’s movements that it became clear.
You’ll need Trico to do things for you to proceed, but he won’t do them exactly when you need him to. This works as a way to build up the relationship between you and Trico, because it feels like neither of you know what to do to solve the puzzle. On the other hand, when you think you have the right solution but Trico is just taking his sweet time doing his part of the equation, I could see where that might become frustrating.
At one point I had to press a button to command Trico to jump over a gap, but it didn’t work (causing me to, for a while, mentally cross that off as a solution) until I was in what felt to me like an arbitrary position on the ground. There seemed to be no logical reason why I would need to be in that exact spot for Trico to jump over, except for the fact that me being in that position made for the most dramatic camera angle when he made the leap.
I’m getting the sense that Sony—at least, Sony as represented by the staff members in attendance at the demo—is not entirely confident that players will possess the patience and problem-solving abilities to get through these puzzles. As I played the demo, there always seemed to be one person or another hovering over me, a little too anxious to tap me on the shoulder and spoil the puzzle solution.
And, you know, I don’t exactly blame them for being a little antsy about the whole thing. Triple-A games and puzzles have drifted apart recently. Remember how many puzzles the first God of War had? It was quite a lot. Now it’s almost considered a design sin if the player stops moving for even a second.
On that note, it seems that Sony has made another concession to contemporary gameplay design. In the E3 demo, the boy clambered up surfaces (and Trico’s feathery body) in the same intentionally-awkward manner of Shadow of the Colossus—you had to hold down the R1 trigger button the whole time if you wanted to maintain your grip on whatever was keeping you from dropping to your death.
In the demo we played, the boy now holds on automatically until you press a button to drop. On the surface, this may be kinder to the player, but I always felt that having to keep a button depressed to simulate hanging on for dear life was a way of heightening the connection between the player and the on-screen action. Now it’s easier to play, but doesn’t feel as much like Colossus anymore. A good tradeoff? I’m not sure.
I’m beginning to see why The Last Guardian spent 10 years in development hell. At its lowest point, I imagine it was like one of those “Design vs. User Experience” memes. It seems like it’s being massaged and massaged, even now, in the hopes that players will love Trico instead of wanting to murder him.
Seeing how The Last Guardian has been laid out over these two demos, it seems very much to me that it’s going to be a fairly linear adventure that proceeds in a straight line from puzzle to puzzle. With that in mind I can’t imagine it’s going to be an especially lengthy experience. So I’d say, be ready to take your time playing this. Slow down, observe, soak it all in. I’m not sure how long it’ll last—and who knows if we’ll ever play something like it again.