IMAGINE a cat, with feathers instead of fur, talons instead of paws, half broken wings, small bioluminous horns, and with a mouth that’s more avian than feline – oh, and that the cat’s the size of King Kong – and you have Trico, the startling creature at the heart of The Last Guardian (PS4, Cert 12, c. €40).
Trico and a child it befriends are the stars of a game that many thought would never see the light of day (see panel, left), but which has proved worthy of the wait for its release.
When The Boy finds himself somehow trapped in an inhumanly vast, decaying ruin, he is forced to team up with an initially hostile, dangerous beast he calls Trico, which is many times his size.
He gradually earns Trico’s trust, coming to rely on him (or it) to help him traverse huge distances between the towering turrets and around the crumbling ruins, while Trico relies on him to open gates and otherwise help clear obstacles and paths, setting up a natural bond of dependency, trust and friendship between the very unlikely pair.
That’s largely the game in a nutshell – The Boy and Trico have to work together to get through the ruin, in search of their freedom – but with a number of dangers, puzzles and problems to mutually overcome along the way.
So far, so … interesting, if not particularly amazing sounding.
However, what elevates TLG far beyond the ordinary – and in retrospect, this should have made by Top Ten list of games last year (sorry, Boy and Trico) – is that its many disparate parts come together brilliantly, creating a game that’s infuriating in parts, but far more memorable and emotive than many bigger, glossier games.
For starters, Trico is the most brilliantly realised game character I’ve ever seen, moving very much like a cat, but with a number of unique quirks and animalistic traits – and engaging characteristics – that made it unique to observe.
Like a real cat, you can’t directly control Trico. It may, or may not, follow your instructions and shouts to move around or react, making it maddening in parts and yet also a little more authentic, too.
While TLG’s controls could be a lot better – and its framerate and camera also leave room for improvement – such flaws just can’t detract from the overall experience, and the unique vision at the heart of the game.
Technically, The Last Guardian is a 2016 title, but it feels like an early highlight for the 2017 gaming year. Here’s hoping others can keep up …