Little Inferno Review

For the most part the Wii’s WiiWare service was pretty barren. There were some brilliant games, but not in nearly the same quantity as were being released on PSN and XBLA. One of the service’s stand out games was the fantastic World of Goo, which saw you connecting balls of goo together to make structures, attempting to help as many goo as possible into a pipe and onto the next level. It had a brilliant sense of humour, wonderfully crafted gameplay and told a story that built up to a fantastic dark conclusion. It was one of my favourite Wii games, download or retail.

When I heard that that the developer Tomorrow Corporation’s next game would be a launch day download on the Wii U I was very excited. How would it stack up in quality, would it feature similar mechanics? The short answer is that while I vastly prefer Little Inferno to World of Goo, I find it a much harder game to recommend as unconditionally as I recommended World of Goo.

Before I jump into the meat of this review I’d like you to watch the trailer below for the game if you’ve not seen it. It doesn’t feature any gameplay or spoilers, but provides the best introduction possible to the game’s sense of humour.

As you can see, Little Inferno is a fairly dark game. The general idea is that you play as a little boy sat in front of a fireplace, finding things to burn. You start with a letter, then start ordering items from a catalogue, all while receiving letters from the maker of the fireplace, a weatherman and a little girl who is in the same situation as you, burning things to keep warm. The story starts off fairly simple but builds at a fantastic pace and throws several unexpected twists at you that change up the dynamic of the game and its narrative tone. Every time I thought I knew where the game was going, something unexpected would happen and throw me for a loop. The final thirty minutes or so in particular caught me completely off guard.

The gameplay consists primarily of burning things. You take an item and drop it into the fireplace, then drag your finger around to create fire, set the item alight and watch it burn. Burning things will provide you with money to buy more things to burn, and occasionally stickers that can be used to get faster delivery on your items. That’s the gameplay, nothing more and nothing less. While this may seem shallow, you’ll quickly discover a huge list of combos, with lists of names like the LOL Cat Combo or the Liquid Breakfast Combo, which require you to burn certain combinations of items together to complete. While the combo system is completely optional, it’s where the bulk of the game’s challenge, reward and gameplay lies. When items are burnt they will all act in unique and amusing ways, and the combinations are even more amusing, often making fun of internet famous content, the video game industry and various stereotypes existing in the real world.

While the game was brilliant the whole way through, it does have its share of issues. The biggest is one of value for money, in that within four hours I’d completed the story and around 80% of the combos, which some may argue is not much for its price tag of £12 on the UK eShop. While it was short enough to complete comfortably in a single sitting, I’ve spent an additional three hours so far trying to crack the remaining combos and I personally felt the story was impressive enough to justify the price point versus length ratio. That being said, if you’re just looking to see the story and not focus on the combos the game will likely only take you a few hours to complete, which may leave you unhappy with the money spent.

The other complaint levied against the game, which again didn’t bother me but will infuriate some people is part of the gameplay. The game is about burning things, and there is very little challenge in the basic mechanic, but the thing that may upset people is its use of a popular mobile free to play mechanic; timed activation of items. When you order an item to burn from the catalogue you have to wait for it to be delivered, which will take anywhere between a few seconds and five minutes. While in the early levels the waiting times are negligible, there is a point in the story where you’ll start finding that you’re having to sit around waiting for items to arrive so that you can try for that next combo (there are stickers that can rush the shipping, but they will also run out quickly later in the game). While I can see that these mechanics will annoy some of you in a game you’ve spent money on, I personally felt it worked very well in terms of one of the game’s narrative threads, which is about consumerism and immersion with mindless tasks in video games. It was annoying, but I enjoyed the clever way they acknowledge the player’s annoyance with it and incorporate it into the story.

The main thing to take away from this review is that Little Inferno is fantastic, but it’s certainly not for everyone. The story is brilliant, providing commentary on how humanity treats the world, consumerism, the nature of free to play games and even the relationships formed online between people who’ve exchanged messages but never met. However, the combo system and sense of humour won’t be enough to prevent some people getting frustrated by the game’s length, the lack of gameplay required to reach the end and the use of free to play mechanics. If you’ve read this far and are even vaguely interested in the story or the ideas it tackles then I wholeheartedly recommend the game, just keep its faults in mind when putting down your money.

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