I’ve been send­ing few­er words out on­to the Net so far this year, and one of the rea­sons was The Last Guardian, which I fin­ished last night. Now I’m miss­ing it and maybe writ­ing about it will help.

There’s been con­tro­ver­sy about the game but I think that on bal­ance it’s great, one of 2016’s more sig­nif­i­cant works of art, and al­so a dozen or two hours of fine en­ter­tain­ment for these cold win­ter evenings.

I’m go­ing to wrap my im­pres­sions around a hand­ful of my screen-grabs  —  the In­ter­net has bet­ter ones, but these are mine. I couldn’t bring my­self to scale them down, so they’re a gift for those of you with big screen­s; for the rest of you, try click­ing on, then shrink­ing, a cou­ple, to get the full ef­fec­t.

For the 0.03% of the pop­u­la­tion who don’t al­ready know, here’s what it’s about: You, a skin­ny pre-teen boy, work your through a fan­tas­ti­cal mostly-vertical land­scape of ru­ins and tow­ers with the help of Tri­co (トリコ), a gi­ant dog-cat-bird, and you be­come very close.

Trico and Me

Tri­co is the cen­ter of the game and the best rea­son to play, a tri­umph of brush­strokes and imag­i­na­tion and pre­ci­sion and soft­ware; her move­ments teeter on the blade be­tween clum­si­ness and grace, nev­er los­ing bal­ance; her rare out­bursts of vi­o­lence are shock­ing and con­vinc­ing.

I just know someone’s go­ing to lean back and flame me for call­ing Tri­co “her”, but it seems ob­vi­ous. To start with, that name, in the Ja­panese con­tex­t, sounds more girl than boy to me. And then, I’ve crawled up her tail and hind legs a few times, and I guar­an­tee that if Tri­co had any male sec­ondary sex­u­al char­ac­ter­is­tic­s, I’d have no­ticed.

It says in this 2009 IGN piece that the mo­tion of each of Trico’s feath­ers is com­put­ed in­di­vid­u­al­ly, and I think that must be true.

The game play is about plat­form­ing and puz­zling, there’s no twitch to speak of. But most­ly it’s about the beau­ti­ful vi­su­als and work­ing with Tri­co. Check the screen­grab be­low.

Trico and Me

It’s like this: You’re on a bal­cony over a vast emp­ty space, a fall mean­ing cer­tain death; check. The bal­cony and its build­ing are or­nate, pastel-to-monochrome, and crum­bling; check. You’re con­vinc­ing Tri­co to walk around the edge of the build­ing on a ran­dom rooftop, wait­ing for her to come along; check.

For me, the game reg­u­lar­ly achieved ab­so­lute sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief; I was ab­so­lute­ly trapped on this tee­ter­ing ledge over a thousand-meter drop, hop­ing for my CatBirdDog bud­dy to get where I could leap to where she could grab me. And when the tow­ers start falling be­neath you… well, my heart was pound­ing hard more than on­ce.

The game might be a bar­gain even if were just a vir­tu­al tour through its world’s land­scapes, im­mea­sur­ably vast, in­sane­ly de­tailed, ad­mirable and sad and scary. Peo­ple de­spaired whether the game, ten years in the mak­ing, would ev­er come out; but I can’t see how they ground out all this won­der in a mere decade.

Trico and Me
· · ·
Trico and Me

There have been gripes about the game-play: con­trol­s, frame-rate, cam­er­a, and, well, Tri­co. Yep, the con­trols are kind of klunky; I nev­er ful­ly mas­tered that quick climb up Trico’s shoul­der or haunch, kept some­times stray­ing in­to her ear or armpit. Others I re­spect hat­ed the frame-rate, but I hon­est­ly found it ob­tru­sive on­ly once dur­ing my many hours in the game. As for the cam­er­a, I thought it was a tri­umph, al­ways spon­ta­neous­ly drift­ing in or out or side­ways to high­light the view or em­pha­size the space or fo­cus on the sparkles flow­ing in fil­tered light com­ing from the high shat­tered win­dow.

But yeah, when you’re cling­ing to the neck of a mon­strous beast shoul­der­ing its way be­tween nar­row stone wall­s, well, you’re not gonna see much but feath­ers and stones. Deal with it.

And then there’s Tri­co her­self. She of­ten does not Come When Called. Or Go When Sen­t. Or Leap When Begged. I can see how this con­sti­tutes the road to mad­ness for a twitch gamer, and some­times it’s bloody ir­ri­tat­ing even for a fair­ly laid-back grey­beard like me. But over the hours I came to ap­pre­ci­ate the game’s forc­ing Trico’s pace on me; and when I was sit­ting perched on her back on a bridge on a tow­er on a but­tress on a cas­tle on a moun­tain in the wind, well, there was lots to look at.

Once the pro­gram­ming went wonky on me and Tri­co re­fused to jump up to that first wa­ter­fall for a sol­id half hour. But I sus­pect that any soft­ware suf­fi­cient­ly ad­vanced to do what Tri­co does at some point be­comes in­dis­tin­guish­able from a cat.

There are things to gripe about; about the eigh­teenth time that I was ma­neu­ver­ing around a tur­ret by al­ter­nate­ly hang­ing from rail­ings, tee­ter­ing along nar­row board­s, and leap­ing from ledge to ledge, I was think­ing “This is a not-very-exciting platformer.” So, there were places the game could have been edit­ed down a bit.

Trico and Me

Check out that shad­ow.

But, stil­l, I got the best part of a sol­id day’s worth of ex­treme beau­ty, and ex­cite­men­t, and a re­la­tion­ship with a won­der­ful vir­tu­al crea­ture. Maybe not as in­tense as the tem­po­rary re­la­tion­ships I’ve had with Ivan Deniso­vich Shukhov, or Chi­hi­ro, or Tif­fany Ach­ing. But it’s not in­sane to talk about them in the same breath.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Tim (but not THE Tim) (Jan 14 2017, at 17:39)

In my many years, I have never heard a corollary to Clarke's Law but I think you may have come up with it:

Bray's Corollary to Clarke's Law: " any soft­ware suf­fi­cient­ly ad­vanced at some point be­comes in­dis­tin­guish­able from a cat"

Describes perfectly some of the software I've messed with, I don't know about others.


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January 12, 2017
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