Little Inferno is an indie puzzle game with a bit of a dark edge. You are a child living in the future. The sun hasn't been out in years and the world is getting progressively colder. Everything is covered in snow. Your only chance at survival is the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace. You are told to burn all of your toys and possessions, then to buy more toys and possessions to burn in the fireplace. Different combinations are rewarded with extra money, used to buy new things, and stamps, used to speed up delivery. Figure out enough combos and you unlock the new product catalogs. The controls are very simple. It's point and click. You click to buy objects, click and drag to throw them in the fireplace, click to start a fire, and click to collect money and stamps.
The game is first person, which makes the darker edge of the story all the more sinister. You start to receive letters from someone who calls herself Sugar Plumps. She wants to be your friend and help you do the best you can with the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace. If you buy her a gift, she sends you a gift back. She seems to be able to see you and knows more about you than you do at any given time.
You also get letters with the weather broadcast--cold, getting colder, and no sign of the sun--from The Weather Man and advertising and instructions from Miss Nancy--the creator of the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace. You burn everything you buy in the fireplace and start to receive cryptic warnings not to turn around and not to burn certain combinations of items.
Here's the rub. Miss Nancy tells you the bad combinations are outlined in the instruction manual. Yet, Little Inferno forces you to burn the instruction manual before you can proceed. Burning the manual is the tutorial stage. It's the one document sent to you that you can't read. All of these referenced warnings were turned to ash long ago.
Little Inferno has a really charming style. The brick fireplace has a decorative face in the back with its eyes closed. Sugar Plumps, or S.P. as she prefers, warns you that the face is always watching. Little spiders and flies climb down into the flame as you stack up bricks, books, robots, toys, and rotting food for points and profit.
Each item in the catalogs has its own unique reaction to flame. A doll dressed like a Valkyrie sings opera. A miniature moon creates an orbit that begins to spin all the items in the fireplace. Soda cans explode and video games create bonus levels of zapping flies or ducks in the fireplace. The different combinations produce different results that alter the animations.
Yet, something doesn't quite sit right for me with Little Inferno. It tries to teeter the line between cute and menacing. I found the darker aspects of the story--the world slowly freezing over, the cryptic warnings about how the fireplace really works--far more compelling the overly cutesy combos and repeated cycle of buying items. The game guides you until it doesn't and the combos have clear relations to the titles in the combo list until they don't. It's just odd.
The ending of the game puts the emphasis on the darker narrative and feels like a really well-conceived storyline. It's just not emphasized as much as it could be during the puzzle-solving. Little Inferno incentivizes every action with a reward and never punishes you for bad choices. It's all reward, no risk. A few more setbacks and challenges could have made the ending all the more powerful.
Little Inferno is a very clever indie puzzle game that older gamers can enjoy (a bit too dark for children and do you really want them virtually playing with matches?). It really is fun to explore how all the items interact with the flame and what combos will be rewarded. The story pops up just enough to keep you engaged for a complete playthrough in one sitting. If you take your time, it'll take you about three hours to get to the end of the game. Aiming just for the bare minimum amount of combos would be even faster.
Little Inferno is available to download on PC, Mac, Linux, and Wii U. You can score the PC/Linux version through next Sunday (9 June) as part of Humble Indie Bundle 8 with Thomas Was Alone, Awesomenauts, Capsized, and Dear Esther (!!!) for as little as $1. Beat the average price and you also get Hotline Miami and Proteus.
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