I once knew a border collie who liked to mess with my head. She would grab a stick, run circles around me, then drop the stick at my feet. Then, when I threw the stick, she would sit down and stare at me as if to say, "No, YOU fetch."
Trico, the co-star of "The Last Guardian" (Sony, for the PlayStation 4, $59.99), is like that. It's an exotic behemoth, a chimerical combination of dog, bird and several other species that may be the most lifelike beast ever seen in a video game. Unfortunately, its stubborn personality makes it a less-than-ideal companion for the poor boy who needs its help escaping from a crumbling death trap.
As "The Last Guardian" begins, the nameless boy wakes up at the bottom of a pit with Trico. The boy is covered with mysterious tattoos, while the animal is badly wounded and chained to the ground. The lad needs to find some food, yank some spears out of Trico's hide and set it free before the twosome can find their way out.
Trico may have wings and feathers, but it can't fly. It does have powerful haunches, so it can leap quite a distance. The boy himself has some rudimentary climbing skills, but they aren't much help in the towering edifices in which he's trapped. So he needs to climb aboard Trico and hope the big lug will follow his suggestions.
And that's where frustration sets in. Too many times, I found myself in a situation where the solution seemed apparent if I could just get Trico to play along. So I climbed aboard — a dodgy proposition in itself, since the controls to make the boy climb are shaky. I yelled. I stroked the beast's feathers. I jumped up and down on his head. Then I'd give up and look for another answer — only to watch the stubborn varmint suddenly do exactly what I'd been pleading for all this time.
There's a lesson there, I suppose. Most of life's problems can't be resolved with a logical approach; you need to coax, feed and comfort the other characters involved. But for a game that's essentially one giant maze, I would have preferred a more clearly defined set of rules and commands — or at least a way to know if I was actually getting through to Trico.
More patient players will be more appreciative. "The Last Guardian" is gorgeous, with expansive vistas of the majestic ruins that are so tantalizingly out of reach. And the animation of Trico and the boy is spectacular, letting you observe their initial wariness slowly develop into mutual affection.
Director Fumito Ueda is known for two cult classics, "Ico" and "Shadow of the Colossus," and "The Last Guardian" evokes those games' overwhelming sense of mystery. After a long time in development, though, it may just be too mysterious for even Ueda's fans. Two stars out of four.
Follow Lou Kesten on Twitter @lkesten.
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