Staring into a fireplace while various toys and items burn to ash seems like an unusual concept for a game. And it is. But it’s also strangely hypnotic, in large part thanks to the bizarre story lurking behind the otherwise-mindless pyromania. Besides, the guys behind both World of Goo and Henry Hatsworth are no strangers to making bizarre game concepts shine.
The fireplace in question is the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace, the flagship product of Tomorrow Corporation. Thanks to a seemingly never-ending snowfall, burning things to keep warm has become the favorite activity of the masses. Users can put just about anything from one of Tomorrow Corp’s various catalogs into the Little Inferno and watch it go up in flames, and when those items are burned out they provide cash that can be used to buy more items.
There is a brief delay between ordering an item and it arriving, but you can apply express postage stamps to speed up the process. Stamps, in turn, are acquired by discovering combos. For example, some flower seeds and an ear of corn create the “Springtime” combo (this one is pointed out to you in the game). There are about one hundred combos to be found (most using two objects, but some using three), and eventually a total of 140 items to purchase. Finding combos also unlocks new catalogs, but first you have to purchase everything in your current catalog at least once. You can also spend cash to increase the size of your mailbox, which can greatly speed up your ordering process by allowing you to multi-task a bit more efficiently.
And that’s really all there is to Little Inferno as far as gameplay is concerned. Buy items, burn items, repeat.
But then there are the letters. (Which, it must be pointed out, also burn like every other object in this game.)
There are three people who will send you letters from time to time. The first is Nanny, the eccentric head of Tomorrow Corp. Her letters are mostly typical customer service fluff, although she will send you at least one gift that you might want to not turn into kindling (if you listen to our podcast, you already know about this). The second letter-sender is The Weatherman, floating high above the city in his balloon. He’s one of the few people not glued to his fireplace, and he has a unique perspective on things, but nothing he says is all that important. The third, and most important, is a strange little girl called Sugar Plumps. Her letters drive the story, and will make you question just what is going on here as you move through the various catalogs. And, ultimately, they will make things very interesting.
Not that watching these strange objects burn to dust isn’t interesting in and of itself. Just about every object is unique, and almost all of them have either unique properties or odd reactions to being immolated. There are various easter eggs hidden amongst them, and even a few squirreled away in odd places if you know where to look (for example: try arranging the “Puzzle Blocks” in a specific way before burning them). It’s fascinating just to watch the sheer variety. Hunting for combos is its own reward, especially when you have several catalogs’ worth of items to sift through to find what works.
Fortunately, the mechanics of the game itself couldn’t be simpler. Whether you choose to use the GamePad or the Remote, all you need to do is click and drag. You start fires by touching any empty space in the fireplace and then dragging it to your kindling and then letting natural reactions take care of the rest. Coins and stamps are collected by clicking or tapping them. This isn’t brain surgery, after all: it’s just burning things.
I found Little Inferno so fascinating that I tore through it in a single sitting. Unfortunately for its $15 price tag, that sitting was only a little over three hours long, and I found about 70 combos in that time. Digging for the others might take another couple of hours, tops, and after that it’s just a mindless little sandbox. Still, the amount of love that three guys put into making this game is readily apparent, and $15 isn’t really asking that much. Little Inferno makes a great addition to the nascent Wii U library; having a quality indie title available this early shows great promise for the future of the system. This isn’t World of Goo or Henry Hatsworth, but Little Inferno is a great title in its own right and worth picking up despite being priced a few dollars too high.
Pros: Quirky premise, intriguing story hidden behind the mindlessness
Cons: Slightly over-costed for its run time