Team Ico has never made a bad game. Granted, the Sony-affiliated dev studio has only created two games over the last nine years, but each one stands as an inarguable classic of modern gaming. Their first title “Ico” delivered a poignant, dark fable about a banished, horned boy and a wan girl trying to escape a labyrinthine, crumbling castle, pursued by creepy shadow creatures. The spiritual sequel “Shadow of the Colossus” centered on a boy who stalks 16 giant mythological creatures so as to harness their life energy and bring his deceased love back to life. Keep in mind these quick summaries do no justice to the clever, spare and affecting experiences that the games offer.
Both “Ico” and “Shadow of the Colossus” appeared on the PS2 and fans have been eager to see what the studio’s moody, slight medieval aesthetic would look like on the more powerful PS3 hardware. Rumors of a new game have persisted for years and its existence was finally established at 2009’s E3. However, ever since it was officially announced, there’s been little news on “The Last Guardian.” Thankfully, this year’s Tokyo Game show held a bonanza for Team Ico acolytes. Not only did the faithful get new gameplay footage from “The Last Guardian,” but Sony also confirmed brewing speculation that the studio’s previous games would be getting high-definition reissues for the PS3. The “Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection” should be available in the spring of next year.
As for “Last Guardian,” little is known by way of plot details but there’s clearly a special bond between the young man in the game and his eagle/goat/dog/chicken companion. Last year’s E3 trailer for the game showed the mash-up creature chained in captivity, later freed and gamely venturing forth with the title’s plucky, presumable hero. This new clip shows off gameplay, not cutscenes, and testifies to the dev studio’s continued mastery of lighting. Both of their previous games boasted beautifully lit worlds and the play of sunshine and dust particles in the new LG trailer indicates that they’ve taking the environmental illumination to a new level.
Team Ico’s works have also made much of turning relationships and physical closeness into gameplay mechanics. In “Ico,” the title character has to constantly hold the hand of his enervated charge Yorda to keep her moving and their grasps and tugs were replicated by gentle vibrations in the controller. “Shadow of the Colossus” required players to climb and grip most of the Colossi’s hair or skin in the game’s sweeping battles. This mechanic put you in the paradoxical position of having to cling for dear life on the very thing you were trying to kill. There looks to be the same kind of spatial intimacy going on in the glimpses of “The Last Guardian” that I’ve seen so far and it’s almost a sure bet that the game’s emotional dynamics will be extremely heartfelt. And it’s gonna look hella pretty, too. “The Last Guardian” will be out exclusively for the Playstation 3 in the holiday season of 2011.