You’d be forgiven for thinking that Little Inferno was developed by 2D Boy, creators of 2008 puzzle classic World of Goo. The art style is exactly the same. That’s because Kyle Gabler of 2D Boy is part of i’s developer, Tomorrow Corporation. With this in mind, the game represents a number of firsts: Tomorrow Corporation’s first game; one of the first Wii U eShop launch titles; and Gabler’s first game since World of Goo.
With these expectations set, does Little Inferno represent a blaze of glory, or a distinguished flame?
Little Inferno is more of a toy box rather than an actual video game. The entire objective is burning various objects, which you order from catalogues. These items range from the standard to the bizarre, with toys, electronics, dolls, household tools, miniature figures and very random objects.
The more you burn, the more coins you will earn to buy new things to burn, and you can upgrade your inventory space. In order to unlock more catalogues (and therefore new items), you must also unlock some combos. You are given a combo list, with each combo giving a clue as to what items you must combine.
Unfortunately, combining items is simply a case of putting two or three items together and burning them based on relativity, rather than actually combining them to create a new object or exploring interaction between them. You can use a laser pointer to cut a dinosaur in half, or use a miniature sun to absorb everything else in the fireplace, but this is never a requirement in the combos. While it is still fun to finally solve a riddle from the combo list, it’s a shame that this type of interplay is hardly explored.
The stylus is your match, with everything being controlled by the GamePad’s touch screen (though you can opt for the Wii Remote instead if you prefer). Anywhere you touch sparks a flame. This means that the majority of time is spent looking at the GamePad screen – though it is satisfying to look up occassionally to see your possessions burn on an HD screen. It also means that, like New Super Mario Bros. U, your TV is not required and you can enjoy the game in out of the room or in bed if you feel inclined.
Gabler’s influence beyond the graphical design is clear, as Little Inferno shares World of Goo‘s humour with that underlying tone of creepiness. Tomorrow Corporation are the actual manfacturer company of the fireplace in the game, and while nothing right about a company that sells toys fireplaces as children’s toys, the premise remains amusing.
While it’s clear that a narrative isn’t imperative in a sandbox game like this, there is still a story that unfolds through the mail you receive. You will receive letters your your pen pal neighbour Sugar Plumps, Miss Nancy of the Tomorrow Corporation, and the Weather Man. The world outside is getting colder every day, so children are burning everything they own to keep warm. You will learn of the situation gradually worsening through the letters you receive.
This gives the illusion that Little Inferno is building up to something bigger, something extravagant. The reality is that the ending sequence is a little lacklustre, and you never really receive any kind of reward or experience any radical change in gameplay.
That said, the journey is the defining factor of this game. Despite it’s simplicity, Little Inferno is oddly engaging and addictive. There’s just satisfaction to be found when throwing in new objects and seeing how they react individually, or burning a huge pile of multiple assets and watching the flames engulf it. Each object has its own property – burning it could cause it to activate, explode, change colour, awaken, freeze, make sounds, and many other random reactions.
Playing through the game’s story could amount to a mere three hours. However, if you play it in the intended way of unlocking combos and messing around with your own accumalations, you can get a solid eight hours or more from the game. The music is charming, with a jolly soundtrack in the catalogue menus (not unlike shopping themes from The Sims) and more creepy compositions during story segments.
Little Inferno is living proof that a game doesn’t necessarily need to set a clear objective for the player to have fun. While it may be too simple for some and ultimately amounts to very little, the game keeps your curiosity flowing throughout and always has something new to play with. It’s a worthwhile experience of the price, and shows promise for future downloadable Wii U games. Great ideas with simple values need not be restricted by the expectations of a retail price, and Little Inferno certainly lights my fire.