“Little Inferno” is a tricky game to review.
Not because I didn’t enjoy it — in fact, the opposite — but because it’s hard to say exactly what the game is. It’s somewhat the antithesis of a sand box game: Normally developers give players the tools to create a world. “Little Inferno” gives you the tools to burn that world down.
It’s tough to call it a game in the traditional sense, but if it is (and I’d say it is) then it’s a dark, and at times horribly, amusingly, twisted little gem. The basis is pretty simple: The player enters a dreary and depressing world where people are forced to stay inside and heat their homes by burning things. The player gets his own little fireplace and can order things to throw into it, and then, well, set them on fire. And watch those things burn. A lot of things. Things maybe you have always wanted to burn. Things maybe you are afraid to burn but really want to see what happens. The pyromaniac hidden deep down inside of you will be revealed, that’s for sure.
“Little Inferno,” from the creators of “World of Goo,” is a disturbingly funny creation, best played all at once in one sitting. Block out a few hours and go to town with it. I played the game almost entirely on the Wii U GamePad, for which it is perfectly suited. Simple touch-screen controls help the player move, place, and burn items, all without any real need for the TV set. It did call into question if the game could have run in a more portable version on the 3DS (though the game did struggle at times if you had a lot of items burning at once, so maybe it’s a technical limitation), but if you’re looking for a game that demonstrates the potential of the Wii U GamePad functioning on its own, “Little Inferno” does just that. (It’s also available on PC).
Watching things burn is a whole lot of fun, even if that’s (pretty much) all you’ll do for the three to four hours of the game’s life. Items will react differently to the flames, some springing to life, some exploding, others just burning, but that’s part of the fun. How will a Kitty Kitty Poo Poo Plushie react to your flames? What about a planet? It’s open-world exploration in the form of fire-based pyrotechnics.
The only real challenge or obstacle in the game comes from the built-in combo system, which will give you a hint (for example, chain smoking, and you have to burn the chain saw at the same time as cigarettes), and then reward you with more stamps (which allow you to order items faster) as well as advance the number of catalogues from which you are able to order. Some of the combos you’ll have no problem figuring out, while with others your best bet is trial and error, or happenstance if you get lucky. This system is the only real obstacle in the game, but it pulls the player along, item after fiery item, seeing what other wonders of the world can be unlocked, and burned, next.
In the background somewhere there’s a skeleton of a story, told through creepy letters that will arrive at the house from neighbors, the creator of the fire place, and the weather man. Slow is the way the world is built around the player, but it is all part of the black humor that makes the game unnerving and enjoyable at the same time. It calls to mind the cult classic “Portal,” both in the sense that the games engrossed me for the entire time they lasted, and when you finish them, you’ll scratch your head and wonder exactly what it was you just did. “Little Inferno” will make you think, start to finish, and while I can’t say how it might make you feel, it certainly will make you feel something. (Even if it is just fire-filled glee).
What it all comes down to, though, is if you are willing to shell out $15 ($10 if you act fast while it’s on sale) for a three-to-four hour game. I was, and really, you should be too. If gamers can continue to shell out $60 for rehashes of the same game series year after year, there should be room in their pockets to try something fresh, new, independent (three guys made this game, for crying out loud!), and exciting. “Little Inferno” is a short, but sweet, highly unique experience brimming with charm and character, and it reminds me why I got into video games in the first place: to do things that I can’t do in real life. Burn on, “Little Inferno,” burn on.“Little Inferno” is a digital only title and is currently available for PC (via tomorrowcorporation.com/littleinferno or Steam) and for the Wii U via the eShop.