Ah, 2009. The year Barack Obama was inaugurated as president, and the year Avatar dominated the box-office. It was also the year when Sony officially announced The Last Guardian – designer and director Fumito Ueda’s follow-up to Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus.
For many who played them, Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus were little short of unforgettable. Ico was a platform-puzzler which took place in a lonely, echoing citadel, where a young boy guided a spectral girl through a maze of trapped rooms and corridors. Shadow Of The Colossus was even more ambitious, with its mysterious giants pushing the hardware capabilities of the PlayStation 3 to their limits.
Neither game was a huge financial success, but both have had a huge impact on the industry. Various “are games art?” op-ed pieces aside, the influence of Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus can readily be seen in other games. There’s more than a hint of their fluid mechanics and seamless environmental puzzles in Naughty Dog’s Uncharted games, for example, and Shadow Of The Colossus‘ melancholy atmosphere seemed to creep into their most recent title, The Last Of Us. Thatgamecompany’s wonderful Journey also contains a touch of Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus‘ dreamlike tone.
Initially going under the title Project Trico, The Last Guardian is a thematic combination of ideas from Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus. About a boy who befriends a gigantic creature that looks like a hybrid of a cat and a bird (“Trico” being a portmanteau of the Japanese words for bird and cat), the game presents another relationship between player and virtual character, just like the boy and the girl in Ico or Wander and his horse Agro in Shadow Of The Colossus.
When the first trailer for The Last Guardian arrived in 2009, the game had already been in development for two years, and from a visual standpoint, it already looked polished: the creature was wonderfully detailed and full of character, while the game’s use of colour and lighting immediately recalled Ueda’s previous pair of titles.
Then, for a very long time, things went deathly quiet. There was talk of a 2011 release, and Sony certainly appeared to be gearing up for one: Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus were released in a HD remastered collection in September of that year, and there was even talk of including a demo of The Last Guardian on that disc. Ultimately, this never happened. Ueda revealed in interviews that he was still “agonising” over certain mechanical details, such as the inclusion of a HUD – something previous games had lacked.
But something far more fundamental was clearly still going on behind the scenes. By December 2011, Ueda had left Sony, but remained contracted to work on The Last Guardian until its completion, as had executive producer Yoshifusa Hayama.
Since Ueda’s dramatic exit, The Last Guardian has seemingly drifted along, emerging in the news from time to time in order to remind people of its existence before quietly slipping away again. More recently, however, Udea has spoken briefly about the game once again, and provided a fairly strong hint that The Last Guardian is being ported over to the PlayStation 4.
“Talks with Sony Computer Entertainment on The Last Guardian have been ironed out, and we’re making progress under completely new conditions,” Ueda told Dengeki PlayStation. “I’m also working on some other things that I’ll hopefully be able to show in time if progress is smooth.”
It seems perfectly logical that the “completely new conditions” is a reference to a shift from the now last-gen PlayStation 3 to Sony’s shiny new console. But does that mean that the game will need to undergo yet more work before it’s ready for the PlayStation 4? Is The Last Guardian like a mirage: constantly on the horizon, and always out of reach?
Last September, Sony worldwide studios president Shuhei Yoshida said that he and Ueda were “still waiting for the time to reintroduce it.” It’s possible, then, that Sony were waiting for the PS4 to finish its global roll-out before thinking about the marketing campaign for The Last Guardian – though if this were the case, an unveiling at the Tokyo Games Show earlier this year would have made sense.
What seems apparent, though, is that Sony hasn’t lost faith in The Last Guardian, even as its production reaches the eight-year mark. Truth be told, neither have we; even though games with such protracted development phases seldom turn out well – see Duke Nukem Forever or Aliens: Colonial Marines – we still cling to the hope that The Last Guardian will, ultimately, be worth the wait.