When I was younger I would sit for hours in front of my Grandparents fireplace, frivolously chucking an assortment of paper and plastic into the flames just to see them burn, melt and eventually crumble into ash and ember. It’s not an experience that I’ve thought about for many years, but within minutes of playing Little Inferno I felt the curious pyromaniacal tendencies of my youth nostalgically beginning to reignite somewhere deep within my being.
Developed by Tomorrow Corporation, a three-man development team comprised of World of Goo and Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure alumni, Little Inferno is essentially a fireplace simulator/puzzle game that really is quite unlike anything I’ve ever played before. Which is undoubtedly why it’s up for a total of three awards (and a couple of honourable mentions) at this years IGF contest: the Seumas McNally Grand Prize, the Technical Excellence award and the Nuovo Award, which celebrates innovation.
Less of a game and more of a toy, Little Inferno sits you down in front of the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace, and wastes no time in telling you to burn things. Gameplay is a extraordinarily simple proposition. Taking place on the single-screen locale of a fireplace and controlled using just the mouse, players must burn an assortment of items for which theyare rewarded with cash. This cash can then be used to purchase new things to burn. Burning a special combination of items awards more cash and eventually allows you to purchase new catalogues full of increasingly expensive and random items.
Aesthetically Little Inferno has a bold, childlike quality to it, albeit one with a slightly dark twist. Think World of Goo with a dash of Tim Burton and you’re almost there. The items you purchase and ultimately burn are all well illustrated and animated. However, it’s the fire effects that take first place in the prettiest pixels pageant. Finely treading the line between realistic and stylised, the flames behave as you’d expect them to thanks to an impressive physics system. As soon as you start to burn things it becomes apparent why it’s up for a Technical Excellence award.
Pretty visuals will only carry you so far though, as after spending an hour with the PC version of Little Inferno I began to feel the initial nostalgia buzz wearing off, leaving in it’s wake a simplistic, repetitive experience. It’s really just a case of burn and buy, burn and burn, ad infinitum, which would be best enjoyed in bite-sized chunks. The condensed gameplay loop would be ideal for journeys on public transport and/or quick visits to the bathroom meaning the iPad version is probably the way to go with this one.
Still, despite it’s mechanical shortcomings Little Inferno certainly doesn’t out stay its welcome and clocks in at just over the three hour mark. Harbouring some genuinely dark undertones the game surprises in the storytelling department. Set in an icy post-apocalyptic milieu, the plot is literally delivered piecemeal in the form mysterious letters from three distinct characters. The writing at work here is sharp, funny, unsettling, and ultimately what kept me burning things way after the initial fun with fire had ran its course. Without a doubt it’s a game worth seeing right through to the end. Tomorrow Corporation deliver a surprisingly satisfying conclusion, from both a mechanical and narrative perspective.
Unquestionably the game is a comment on our obsession with commercial culture and possibly touches a little on the addictive nature of videogaming itself. Food for thought, people. Food for thought…
All in all, Little Inferno undoubtedly offers an innovative, subversive and visually interesting experience, if a relatively short lived one. It’s a game that managed to recapture the curious, inquisitive nature of my youth while hooking me with its enigmatic narrative. The simplistic and compact nature of mechanics at play mean it’s a game best enjoyed in short bursts. While this is a must-buy for iPad owners, I encourage tablet-less folk to be aware of what kind of experience is on offer here, otherwise you may well end up getting burnt.
Developer: Tomorrow Corporation
Format: Windows, Wii U and iOS. Linux & OSX coming soon.
Release Date: 18th November 2012