The Last Guardian finally released this week. While reception has been mostly positive, our review pointed out some core gameplay issues that held it back from achieving its full potential, noting that The Last Guardian is basically still a PS3 game, even though it's released on the PS4.
That got me thinking, though: what if it actually was a PS3 game? Let's imagine for a moment that everything went according to plan, and The Last Guadian released in its current state back in 2011 as a PS3 exclusive.
For one, it's gameplay issues I pointed out would be a lot easier to stomach. Thing like clipping and character model bugs were more standard-issue back in those days, especially for smaller games. Not to mention the general look and feel of The Last Guardian still had those distinctly last-gen touches that went beyond a minimalist art style.
Before jumping straight to the conclusion that The Last Guardian would have been a rousing success in 2011, let's look at what it was competiting against, both on PS3 and on Xbox 360.
Major PS3 exclusive titles that released in 2011 included Infamous 2, Killzone 3 and LittleBigPlanet 2, which certainly leaves room for a Japanese puzzle platformer. Xbox 360 saw the release of Gears of War 3 and Forza Motorsport 4, the former of which grabbed most of the limelight and sales for that matter. But nothing indicates that The Last Guardian couldn't have succeeded.
Even among major multiplatform games that came out in 2011 (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Assassin's Creed: Revelations, Battlefield 3, etcetera), you're hard-pressed to find a truly original IP. There were only two major new IPs that grabbed headlines in 2011: Brink (we all know how that worked out) & L.A. Noire, which, while being monumental in technology was not a very good core game.
This left the door wide open for a truly unique exclusive game for the PS3. There was nothing on the market quite like The Last Guardian, and, while it is of a piece with Team ICO previous titles, it stands on its own in both gameplay and story.
A Colossal Bundle
Also released in 2011 was The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection, remastered versions of the popular PlayStation 2 titles. I'd bet money hand over fist that these would have released as a big bundle with The Last Guardian, increasing both its excitement and its returns.
Of course, it is possible that that bundle never would have happened if The Last Guardian was on schedule. This remaster could merely have been there to fill the hole left by The Last Guardian. This was clearly the case when Sony announced a God of War 3 Remaster within days of the disappointing news that Uncharted 4 would be delayed to 2016.
No Bad Press
Here's a nugget of knowledge that rings true in every situation. The only thing worse than bad press is no press. If The Last Guardian relased in 2011, though, there wouldn't have been any bad press. In fact, you have to wonder if all the bad press surrounding The Last Guardian has ultimately helped its financial bottom line.
You could make the case that a small Japanese game with a cult following that released on time in 2011 would have exited that console generation as a blip. Now five years later, The Last Guardian is one of the most talked about games of 2016. Why? Because of the infamously tumultuous development that had people wondering if it would ever come out.
Then it came out. In fact, people were including the mere fact that The Last Guardian released as a positive.
While The Last Guardian might have made more headlines because of its roller coaster development period, it was probably better-suited on the last generation of consoles. The year 2016 saw plenty of major and minor IPs (Overwatch, Inside, No Man's Sky) that will likely dominate the conversation going forward and The Last Guardian just didn't receive the care it deserved when transferring it to the PS4.
The Last Guardian would have been all alone in 2011, standing out among the crowd as a must-have exclusive whose issues would have been easily overlooked. In 2016 on the PS4, not so much. All of this is a shame on par with the cancelation of Silent Hills.