Burning things is fun. And that’s good, because there’s nothing else to do in Little Inferno. More toy than game, Tomorrow Corporation’s debut title shares a physics-based playfulness with World Of Goo, which one of its founders helped create, but takes a torch to that game’s goal-oriented structure. Instead, Little Inferno is all about the simple pleasure of stacking items high and watching as they collapse and burn.
As the owner of a Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace, you’re invited to order items from an ever-growing catalogue and dump them in a furnace. Each item is, in essence, a gag – some self-referential, some satirical, and others just plain surreal – and there’s amusement to be had in unwrapping each new toy and seeing what will happen when you add flame to it. For example, coffee cups scream in protest, while small planets catch surrounding items in their gravitational pull before everything burns up in a windmill of fire. There’s a dark undertone to Little Inferno’s anti-consumerism, perfectly captured by the cutesy grotesquery of Kyle Gabler’s art style, which makes innocent children look like bug-eyed goblins and turns rabbit plushies into rotten-toothed wheezing monstrosities. It’s found in subtle details, too, such as the way an unburned doll’s eyes will anxiously trace the arc of your flame-creating cursor around the screen.
A simple, touching story offers a distraction from all the combustion, told by letters that occasionally appear in your rack of items waiting to be burned. These messages come from a select cast of characters, and slowly drip-feed trivia about the world beyond the fireplace in the familiar, surreal tones of World Of Goo’s sign painter. More importantly, perhaps, they set up the unexpected and memorable final scenes.
Little Inferno’s chief problem isn’t its shallow interactivity, but the way it arbitrarily gates your progress, forcing you to discover specific combos of items based on oblique hints before you can progress. They’re an effective way to stop players rushing through the slight tale, perhaps, but these challenges can turn a diverting toy into an obscure and boring game.
There’s a joke being played in Little Inferno, and we’re not quite sure who’s the butt of it. Social games get satirised via both flavour text and mechanics, since you’re forced to wait minutes for your deliveries to arrive, unless you pay in-game stamps to speed things up. But at times it seems like you’re being mocked for choosing digital coal shovelling over the real world. There’s enough charm here for Little Inferno to get by, but sometimes you might consider taking its advice and stop feeding the flames.