Most store-bought pistachios are easy to open. Grab one from the bag, pry apart the two halves of its shell, and relish a brief moment of earthy, salty goodness. But every now and then you find a stubborn pistachio, a seed so tightly shut that even a fingernail won’t fit inside. You pry it, squeeze it, maybe even smash it, yet it still refuses to yield its fruit. After a while you conclude that, no matter how valuable the prize inside might be, it simply isn’t worth the amount of energy required to find out. Last Inua is that pistachio.
The main problem with Last Inua is that its puzzles—often clever and full of a-ha moments—take a backseat to tedious, painfully slow platforming. Your characters, an Inuit father and son duo, pad lethargically across the screen. They struggle to clamber over obstacles. They climb ice shelves at the pace of a frozen snail. Navigating the game’s arctic stages is almost like trudging through ten feet of snow in real life. While I see merit behind the idea of an authentic snow-trekking simulation, it’s not the slightest bit enjoyable here.
That, of course, is assuming you can actually play the game. I ran Last Inua over iOS 7 on an iPad 3, a configuration supposedly supported by the application, and encountered no less than a dozen crashes. It crashed upon opening, it crashed while loading, it occasionally even crashed mid-level. You can imagine that these crashes, in combination with the game’s sluggish pace and seemingly broken checkpoint system, made for an infuriating experience.
Nevertheless, Last Inua does have a few redeeming qualities. Its style and themes are drawn from Native American lore, an interesting and relatively untapped source of inspiration in videogames. Its story, about a boy destined for powerful things and his increasingly helpless father, provide both soft and heavy moments. Its overall gameplay design, too, in which a single player controls two collaborative characters, is a novel one. Other games have done this so-called “single-player co-op” more intelligently (Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons comes to mind), but Last Inua does OK for a mobile title.
Whatever magic Last Inua might hold for players, though, is tragically locked away behind a slow, buggy shell. Like that stubborn pistachio, we can sense something inside, can nearly taste it, but we’re forced to question how much time and effort the thing is worth. In the end, what’s the use in spending time on a single seed with an entire bag of them sitting next to us?
Matt Akers is a freelance journalist based in Boston. He writes about geek culture and works for a youth literacy project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Follow him on Twitter @ScholarlyLad.