Bonus Rounds are short, 5-minute musings on quirky titles that either end up hidden down the back of the sofa, or lost among the endless pile of Steam games and Bundles you own, but have never got around to playing. These could be reviews of PC, iOS or console games, Early Access titles, games made as part of a Game Jam, and so on. They’ll predominantly be games made by indie developers, and usually (but not always) published on a Sunday or Monday morning.
Little Inferno is an odd game, and one that has stayed with me far longer than it should have. It is in essence a trial-and-error puzzle game in the vein of Doodle God (a game primarily consisting of mixing two or more elements to create new ones, which is far more addictive than it has any right to be). This iteration sees you setting fire to seemingly random objects in order to fulfil cryptic combinations. This in turn unlocks new catalogues filled with more items, and that’s about the sum of its parts. It’s a tried-and-tested, if somewhat safe concept often found within the mobile gaming sphere and it’s a style that has a tendency to split gaming opinion between love and hate. I personally found it to be a quite relaxing and memorable (for both good and bad reasons) and an oddly haunting experience.
Underneath Little Inferno’s catchy jingles, oddball characters and deceptively light-hearted presentation lies an ambiguous, almost sinister setting with more than a touch of melancholy thrown in for good measure. It’s this incongruity between its bright presentation and hidden darker narrative which sets Little Inferno apart from similar titles in this genre. By the end of your time with it, you may well remember it more for its subtle themes rather than its run-of-the-mill gameplay.
Little Inferno’s overall design is functional, if a little basic. The gaming area consists of a nicely designed fireplace in which you can position and set fire to a variety of bizarre items. Get two or more items that burn together correctly and you set off a nice little animation, sound or explosion. Doing this provides stamps and coins which in turn allow you to unlock more items as well as progressing the storyline.
Like many puzzlers, the level of difficulty starts off nice and easy, with only a few items available to you (meaning only a certain number of pairings you can try). As more items are introduced however, it does quickly become an exercise in frustration – especially with the pointless timers attached to items. This culminates into a situation that sees you burning random items together in the vain hope of hitting upon the next increasingly obscure combination.
What Little Inferno lacks in gameplay, it certainly tries to make up for with its charming presentation. A child-like, hand-drawn style is used to great effect which is further enhanced by the humorously animated items and impressive fire effects. All of this deceives you into thinking that this could be a title squarely aimed at a younger audience (I’m not convinced it is given the theme of burning all your toys). Add to this, atmospheric music and an incredibly catchy theme tune, and you’re looking at an experience that feels familiar, but ends up being something very different.
Unfortunately, presentation alone cannot save Little Inferno, nor for that matter can a well-crafted – if peculiar – storyline. Its gameplay is just too basic, favoring a mobile-device style of gaming, whilst its repetitive nature, alongside the artificially-imposed timers, means that boredom can set in fairly quickly.
Had the fireplace gameplay been part of a larger design, perhaps an adventure-like game where you had to explore areas to find the items before burning them, this could have been something very special – especially in light of the game’s final ten minutes. As it stands, the variety and depth Little Inferno so clearly needs and deserves, simply isn’t there.
Despite Little Inferno’s obvious failings, I still think about it with an inexplicable fondness. It’s apparent that what Tomorrow Corporation were aiming for was more than just a basic puzzler, and for me, they succeeded in their mission. Many will dislike the game for its failings, but it would be unfair to say that Tomorrow Corporation failed entirely in their goals. It’s also worth pointing out that although Little Inferno was released originally on PC, it has since been ported across to iOS devices – a format which is much better suited to the overall experience, and which thus earns it an additional point – so if you’re going to pick it up, do so on that format.