Game: Little Inferno
Developer: Tomorrow Corporation
Publisher: Tomorrow Corporation
Available on: Nintendo Wii U, Windows PC
Reviewed on: Nintendo Wii U
Video games sometimes have the power to touch us in ways we didn’t think imaginable, games like The Walking Dead can bring us to tears, while Journey left the player mouth agape at the wonder on screen. But Tomorrow Corporation have revealed that, apparently, I quite like burning things. Now before you go running to the authorities, I’m an able-minded enough person that I don’t want to go and burn things in real life, but in the digital-crack world of Little Inferno, burning things is addictive. And now I’ve mentioned crack as well, yeah, I’m a little worried.
The alarming conceit of Little Inferno is that it has been snowing for years and years, so you have to keep warm by burning everything you own in your Little Inferno Entertainment Fire, which has a peculiar face-like object in the centre of it, that you are told isn’t watching you. There are only really 2-3 screens you’ll see for the gameplay sections, the main one being the fireplace itself. Using the Wii U stylus you can pick up objects and place them into the fire, then touching the screen allows you to create fire, to burn everything with.
The objects themselves are purchased from a catalogue, and are of varying cost. As you buy one object, another becomes available, and so on until you have grabbed everything from that catalogue, and the next one is ready to purchase. But the real fun comes from the combinations you have to find to unlock stamps, which allow you get your purchased items quicker. After a while, a tab appears in the top right of the screen. Touch this tab and you’ll find out there are 99 combinations you can burn together, and some are quite obtuse. At this point it becomes a puzzle game, you’ll be flicking through all the available catalogues and working out what that combination means, for example, a “Zombie Garden” requires the combined burning of a Zombie Plushy and a pack of Seeds. It makes sense, right?
Unfortunately for the player, it is as addictive as any game I’ve played this year. The “one more go” nature of the combos makes it near impossible to put down, and when you start getting notes from a mysterious girl, who will sometimes gift you items, or ask for items from you, you’ll start to wonder what is going on, what’s the story here? You’ll also get notes from the creator of the Little Inferno Entertainment Fire, surprised at how well you’re doing, and the weatherman who reports from the weather balloon high above the city, informing you of the nature of the terrible cold environment outside.
You gain money by burning things, so basically you buy things to burn them, to buy more things. You can also purchase an inventory expansion, as you can only initially hold four items, and once the combos require three items at once, it gets tricky to manage if you’ve not upgraded, especially if you get a new letter incoming as well. It all adds up to a tremendous feedback loop, the pringles of video games, because once pop, you…well, you know the rest of that sentence.
It’s to be expected given that one of the founders of Tomorrow Corporation helped give us World of Goo, but Little Inferno looks lovely and has a superb art style. It gives off an almost Ren & Stimpy or Tim Burton vibe, especially with the video you can unlock; cheery yet…sadistically dark. All the items you can buy have such personality given to them, with full descriptions, every one has a different reaction when burnt, as everything applies to the laws of physics. As childish as it seems, but “Kitty Kitty Poo Poo” will give you a genuine laugh when you burn it, though I won’t spoil what happens here. Though it’s another example of Nintendo allowing games to cater to the hardcore, because you’d never have seen a video that shows children’s heads exploding before on a Nintendo console. Little Inferno is full of these kind of little touches that give it personality and charm, and combined with the addictive gameplay, you’ll lose at least an hour or two in your first sitting.
There are two factors that will determine how long you play Little Inferno, one is how strong your willpower to not check for a combo-guide is, so conversely the other is how good your lateral thinking is, and thus how long it takes you to solve the puzzles. Some of the combinations are more than a little bizarre, but they make sense for the most part. It’s one of those tremendous head-scratchers that requires you to sometimes take a break, so you can come back fresh and solve a puzzle easily.
It can’t be ignored that Little Inferno is probably a satire on modern video games designed to nickel and dime their audience, this is clear through the use of stamps to speed up delivery of their next item, that they’d have to otherwise wait for. The irony is that it channels those exact addictive tendencies that will see a player pour real money into a Facebook game. Yet there is no micro transaction model here, which goes to show that if your game is good enough, the audience and developer can have a mutually respectful relationship, with no party needing to be cynical about what is happening. Also, it lets you burn Spiders, and I bloody hate Spiders.
VERDICT: Little Inferno won’t be for everyone, there’s a chance you’ll see it as a vapid experience, maybe even more of a toy than a game, but there’s a euphoric feeling to completing a catalogue and moving to the next. A guilty joy in burning everything you can is rewarded with more things to burn, and the fact you can hide your new found arsonist ways away from the family by playing it on the Wii U’s Gamepad is great, because hey, we don’t want people know we like burning things, right?
It might not last you much more than 3-5 hours, but Little Inferno is a joyous experience full of charm and wit, and it’s cheap too, whichever platform you buy it on. Whatever you end up thinking of it, you won’t be able to put it down, and it’ll more than likely stay with you for a while too.