A few weeks back, I picked up a Wii U system, so I’ve been doing a bit of looking around at what games are out there, both in the physical and virtual world. That’s when I stumbled upon Kotaku’s 12 Best Games list, which includes what you’d pretty much expect as the standard game choices when you think about the Wii U. Except for one game.
It’s called Little Inferno.
I’d never heard of Little Inferno before, but I did know the Tomorrow Corporation for their game World of Goo. I really loved World of Goo for all that it did, so I got curious about Little Inferno and how “an interactive fireplace video game that has an emotional storyline” could be so highly lauded by the folks at Kotaku.
It’s going to be very hard writing a review for this game… because it’s not so much a game as it is an experience. It’s not going to be something I recommend for everyone. But for those who “get it,” it has a very thought-provoking and personal message on many different levels.
What did this game do that I expected? It gave me a quirky entertainment fireplace where I could buy and burn stuff at my own free will. Sometimes, this got just as disturbing as it sounds. Other times, it was fascinating to put things under fire and see how they’d respond. This worked extremely well with the Wii U controller touchpad. There’s a whimsical-ness to the fireplace playstyle, and it’s easy to see how a society who has known nothing but freezing weather and endless snow could become transfixed and captivated with the power-rush and the heat that this entertainment fireplace provides.
There’s also an element of a puzzle game here. You’re provided with a catalog of items, and you can buy and burn anything you please. You’re also provided with a list of combos – items that you burn in combination with each other. Some of these combos are obvious, but others are a little more tricky. Thankfully, there’s a great website out there that provide hints on combos. Because figuring out the difficult ones are part of the fun.
When you figure combos out, you are rewarded with more coins and stamps. You can use these stamps to speed up the delivery process of items that you order. Much like many mobile games (often those with in-game transactions), Little Inferno makes you wait on things. Depending on the item, it can take anywhere from 10 seconds to 5 minutes to be delivered.
Don’t let that turn you off, though, because there’s a very good reason for this game element that you only realize in retrospect. Plus, you always have more than enough stamps to speed up delivery when you really want it. For the most part, the playstyle is lax and encourages you to slowly experience burning items and watching the ashes crumble away.
The only outside interaction you have are letters that come from three different sources: the head of Tomorrow Corporation, the Weatherman, and a girl named Sugar Plumps. Of course, you can burn whatever they send you, too. These letters help you realize there’s more to this game than first meets the eye. There is a storyline. I’m not going to spoil it. Suffice to say, I didn’t expect what happened in the end.
My only minor criticism is that Little Inferno relies heavily on hooking you with the fireplace gameplay mechanic. It hopes to entrance you the same as the people within the story are entranced, because it’s important for the emotional outcome of the story for you to be able to put yourself in the place of one of the people who live in that world.
For some people, it might be that the lure of chasing combos and watching the surprising/satisfying/disturbing responses of new items put to the torch will be enough to get them to the point where the story hits home. For me, by the time I unlocked the 4th catalog, I still felt the game was clever, but I was starting to question what the point was to endlessly burning things.
But, there is a point. And I’m so very glad I kept coming back to this game to play it until the game’s message was fully realized.
This game is short – I beat it in a bit over 3 hours, but I still haven’t unlocked all the combos. So your gameplay mileage may vary. As much as I love this game and what it’s meant to be, I have a hard time suggesting it to curious folks at the full price of $9.99. If you catch it on sale, and it seems like the kind of experience that would interest you, pick it up. Don’t spoil it by watching it on YouTube because it’s one of those things that you need to be personally invested in to get the full impact.
And… that’s all I’ve got to say about that.