There is no way The Last Guardian will be good enough.
A black screen. Shafts of light beam from some unknown light source. Silence… Suddenly and softly, a single feather descends down the screen. The crowd begins to murmur in disbelief. Down and down we watch it go until it finishes its fall on a feathered wing. The crowd loses their minds. I lose my mind.
This was the scene at E3 on Monday as PlayStation revealed that it’s long-awaited and long-doubted title, The Last Guardian, would be released in 2016. The Last Guardian was initially teased in 2009, and after being absent year after year since then, many figured that it had been canned. Sony maintained its position that it was indeed being developed, but after five years of absolute silence not many of us were left who believed it.
The trailer then cuts to a small boy bathed in sunlight amid ancient ruins. Cupping his hands, he calls out to something in a way incredibly reminiscent of Wander calling to his trusty steed Agro in Shadow of the Colossus, director Fumito Ueda’s other beloved video game title. With a few tyrannical stomps, out from the ruins emerge a giant bird-cat-dog – the crowd again lose their minds. Then commences a short game play trailer showing us what kind of art style and mechanics to expect. After a tense cliff-hanger (literally), the title comes up and confirms that the game we thought forever buried and forgotten like some enigmatic relic would now see the light of day.
It’s a curious thing. I’ve never been at the same time so moved and happy for seeing a trailer, and so troubled at the same time. The game play looks solid, the graphics are incredibly beautiful and just so Ueda… So what was this dark worry stirring inside of me?
It was the realization that this game now has the Curse of Nukem. Not sure what that means? Let’s break it down:
The Curse of Duke Nukem Forever
The year is 1997. After a very successful first game, fans are delighted to hear about Duke Nukem Forever; the planned sequel to the insanely popular Duke Nukem 3D. So production started and fans waited happily… And waited… And waited… And waited, and waited, and waited. Occasionally news or screenshots would leak, and hope would be rekindled, but the game would then quickly submerge back to the depths of obscurity. Finally, as fate would have it, after twelve years in development the developer of Duke Nukem Forever, 3D Realms, shuttered its doors in what is still one of the most confusing stories of video game mismanagement in history.
With all seeming lost, it came as a shock that the game had been picked up by Gearbox Software in 2010 and would be actually releasing sometime in 2011. The world lost their minds yet again… In an almost identical reaction to Monday’s reveal.
The game finally came out… and boy did it suck. A clear mismatching of core values, direction, and management were on display as horrid bugs, dismal plot, lackluster visuals, and rage-inducing controls made it notorious during its release. It seemed clear that after so many years in development it had been destroyed and pummeled to the point of no return. Thus… The Curse of Nukem.
This video captures the curse pretty well (and is incredibly humorous and accurate.)
TLDR; The Curse of Nukem = FUN – (Time In Development x Number of Times Switched Hands x Hype and Expectations of Consumers).
Even if Nukem had been fantastic, the expectation of the game that had been compounded exponentially by the time it took to come out would have made it seem far less impressive than everyone expected. When people wait for something, they have time to imagine how spectacular it will be; and in the same way that the amazing date you’ve been imagining in your mind ends up being awkward and ends in a handshake, so to will the game. Well the game probably won’t end in a handshake but you get the idea.
So that brings us back to The Last Guardian.
The Last Guardian Can’t Live Up to the Hype
After nine years in development, the Nukem equation outlook is quite bleak:
Fun – (9 Years x 1 Director x 10/10 Hype) = Fun – 90.
The one thing that could save The Last Guardian from the curse is the fact that it has been Ueda’s creation from its beginning and until its end – it has never changed developers, publishers, or directors. With Ueda’s talent and beautiful artistic direction, it is possible that what we get is gorgeous and wonderful… but it will have to surpass the hype and expectations that have grown exponentially for almost a decade.
Only time will tell, but I pray it can avoid the curse.