My dog is a jealous animal.
When I've pet another dog, he knows. When my wife and I get close, he intercepts. And when I talk to Trico, the creature star of Fumito Ueda's long-awaited game "The Last Guardian," he huffs.
My dog had never batted an eye at my game talk before that. Chatting with "Call of Duty" friends? Nope. Swearing at "Dark Souls"? Nope. Awww-ing at Pokémon? Not even once.
So why was it "The Last Guardian" — and, in this case, my entreating of Trico to make a jump through Ueda's enchanting new world — that made my dog pace into the living room and huff at me?
It's simple: Because "The Last Guardian," more than any game I can recall, replicates the bond between man and animal in all its warming, inscrutable depth. Sensing that bond, my dog got jealous.
In guiding a young boy out of a valley castle with Trico's aid, fending off stone knights and shattering the stained glass that frightens your new animal companion, you build that bond. Ueda constructs an elegant framework of controls and environmental cues for you to do so in this gentle puzzle-platformer. At times, though, it's not elegant enough: With their obviousness, on-screen button prompts and the narration of the boy's older self can sometimes disrupt the same cryptic, affecting spell Ueda cast with his previous games, "Ico" and "Shadow of the Colossus."
Usually, you already know what to do to advance through the castle. Using the boy's voice and select other commands, you can reach high ledges by climbing the rustling avian feathers of Trico's bridged back, or leap to higher ones with the power of the creature's feline hinds. The game's path forward is mostly smooth and steady, pausing only for knowing glances between boy and beast. These stretches of instinctual progression, advancing with Trico as you take in Ueda's stone spire ruins and the misty abyss from which they rise, are the game's best.
"The Last Guardian" stumbles, though. The boy's movement can be weighty and imprecise: Scaling Trico's back sometimes takes him in the wrong direction and just approaching ledges triggers a lengthy animation that stutters your journey. At best, the movement creates a genuinely vertiginous feeling as the boy maneuvers across a dangling structure, like a giant crib mobile, in order to detach its stained glass barriers. At worst, you repeatedly try and fail to negotiate rubbly terrain with heavy, glowing barrels in tow so you can feed them to the beast.
Then there's Trico. When he's not ferrying the boy through the castle and its cliffside surroundings, the creature is staring at him or even going backward. More rarely, Trico can be so inexplicably stubborn about doing what he needs to that you wonder whether you, with your repeated insistence, are spamming the wrong solution to whatever environmental puzzle he won't help you solve. Then, suddenly, he does what he needs to — leaps onto a ledge, dives into an underwater passage — and the game goes on, randomly.
Trico's behavior would have frustrated me more if it didn't ring so true of my dog's. Sometimes he, too, stares at me with wide, muddy eyes or does the opposite of what I ask, however repeatedly or insistently. It may be apologist of me to excuse such faulty AI design, especially when the game's troubled development cycle suggests the error is human and inadvertent, not animal and deliberate. Nonetheless, it works terrifically to "The Last Guardian's" favor. It creates, with Trico, a bond so palpable and ripe for pathos that even my dog could sense it.