Little Inferno is a game that is hard to classify generically because how things take turns throughout the game. To place the style of gameplay though, the closest genre definition of the game would be a casual puzzle game. However, that changes near the end of the game when events take a huge turn. The game was developed by the indie developer Tomorrow Corporation and indie to its core, Little Inferno is self-published by the developer. Kyle Gray, Kyle Gabler and Allan Blomquist make up Tomorrow Corporation. The three guys’ previous work includes World of Goo (Blomquist and Gabler) and Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure (Gray). Little Inferno is Tomorrow Corporation’s first game and it is available currently for Wii U on the eShop, Windows on Steam or through their website, and eventually for Mac and Linux.
The game begins with a message from Miss Nancy, the head of Tomorrow Corporation, the creators of the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace; she congratulates the player on their legitimate purchase of the product. This gives the player their first thing to burn. After a while the player gets another letter, this time from a little girl named Sugar Plumps. Sugar Plumps also is playing with a Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace, which she finds to be super warm and makes her feel all snuggly. As a good pen pal, she gives the player a picture of herself to have…and burn. The player continues to burn more things and Sugar Plumps sends them more letters, eventually she asks the player to send her specific items (keep a tab on what is sent to Sugar Plumps, it might be important later). Sugar Plumps is a Greek Chorus, the voice inside the game commenting on events and mechanics while breaking the fourth wall.
As the game continues, the player soon comes to learn that she is her neighbor and they are burning things right next to each other, but they can never meet. Through Sugar Plumps’ letters, the player witnesses her grow in self-awareness and despair. At one point, she asks the player to turn their heads, but they cannot nor can she…She can stare at the fire forever, but she can never turn her head. It reveals more of the story’s puzzle, children (the gamer included) are next to each other with their Little Infernos and they cannot turn their heads backwards. Miss Nancy and the Tomorrow Corporation is the one keeping them there and giving them magazines to buy stuff from to distract them. That is another huge intrigue to the story; the world that these characters live in is so bleak, cold and miserable. The only thing that can keep their minds off the awfulness is the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace because it keeps them warm and staring at a fire.
The storyline with Sugar Plumps turns really dark and sad. Unfortunately, there is something insanely sinister happening with all of these Little Infernos Entertainment Fireplaces and the world getting colder, and so is Miss Nancy. There is more than meets the eye with why all these Little Infernos are in all of these houses and rooms within this cold city. The player will eventually find out why it is so disconcerting…
By setting up the frequent correspondence between Sugar Plumps and the player, the story has a huge boost of whimsy and humor; it serves to create an atmosphere and a story to the game where it otherwise would simply be gameplay. Sugar Plumps is delightful and it is truly kind of heart breaking to learn what happens to her during the game. Then there is the richness of the world and the dystopian atmosphere that is effectively shown through bits and pieces of letters the player receives. Ultimately, the game’s story is uplifting and gives satisfying closure. Little Inferno’s ability to construct an engaging story within the casual/puzzle genre is a huge achievement.
The objective of Little Inferno is simple…burn things. That is it; the player will burn things in this game, lots and lots of things. While that may not sound like the most exciting prospect, but it is hugely addicting and fun. Although the objective is simple, the gameplay has more complexity to it. The player can buy any number of items from one of seven catalogs. Once the player has purchased an item, it has a wait time before it can be opened then set in the fireplace to be engulfed in flames. To place an item into the fireplace, the player only needs to click on it with the stylus then drag it into the desired position. In order to light it on fire, the player needs to rub the stylus near the item and flames will appear to burn the item. As an item burns, it will drop coins, which the player can collect to buy better and bigger items that will be more fun to burn.
There is more to the game than simply burning items. What changes the game from simply burning things randomly to burning things with purpose is the combo system. Certain items when burned together will result in a specific combo, which yields more money and special tickets that can be used to avoid the wait time on items. The real meat of the gameplay is figuring out what items will result in combos. In the Catalog section and at the top right corner of the main screen is a list with names of the combos. It is the player’s job to decipher what items the combo titles require. Figuring out a combo is satisfying and helps the player progress through the game. By completing more combos, the player gets access to newer catalogs (as long as they have bought all the previous catalog’s items). Completing the game’s 7 catalogs and 99 combos will allow players to witness the satisfying conclusion to the game’s story.
Little Inferno makes good use of the Wii U’s gamepad and the gameplay utilizes it effectively while never seeming to shove it down the player’s throat. For a game that on its surface just seems like mindless burning of items the gameplay has a surprisingly complicated mechanic in the combo system and deciphering the ingredients behind the combo titles. The gameplay is amazingly addictive and the player will likely get in a trance when buying and burning items from the catalogs, often times mirroring what the story is commenting upon.
Graphics and Sound
The art design in Little Inferno is wonderful. It is charming and at the same time, edgy giving common toys a delightful twist. While the game mainly takes place in a fireplace, the effective look of items and animations give the game’s visuals plenty of fluidity and vibrancy. Watching items burn in is brilliant visually and mesmerizing, but it is really the special animations for specific items that push the visuals over the edge. The game’s graphics are much like many of the other elements present, simple yet evocative and extremely polished.
The score and sound design is another aspect where Little Inferno excels. Sound effects in a game where players light stuffed bears, fireworks and spider egg sacs among other things are hugely important. Little Inferno features excellent and effective sound effect for each of the items that players will be burning during their time in the game. The music in the game is simply fantastic. It is amazingly catchy and deftly helps create atmosphere while matching the tone the game’s story is creating. By the end of the game, the score is just perfect and creates a huge sense of catharsis.
Little Inferno is a spectacular title and certainly one that Wii U and PC gamers alike should give a look. It features a seemingly simple story, at first, but it gets more complicated and intriguing as the game progresses. The gameplay is addicting, fun and becomes more sophisticated than first glance. Little Inferno’s graphics are charming and beautiful while containing excellent sound design and music. The game ends up doing plenty of things extremely well; in addition, it has an uplifting and cathartic ending that has a great sense of whimsy and wonder. Little Inferno is well worth the price of admission.