Wot I Think: Little Inferno

Tomorrow Corporation’s sinister digital fireplace, Little Inferno, arrived on Sunday, and I’ve been warming my hands by its cold light for the past couple of days. Here’s wot I think.

The idea behind Little Inferno is quite simple: it’s a fireplace, and you burn stuff on it. As you burn things you get currency to burn more things. It is rather sinister, and intentionally so, with the cute-but-disturbing of World Of Goo creator Kyle Gabler doing most of the work with its beautifully hand-drawn kindling. Gabler’s influence is clear. It might just be little more than a fireplace and a catalogue of things to burn, but it has a strange, almost conspiratorial cuteness, all framed in Gabler’s charming bug-eyed style.

The game begins with you burning a series of things – toys and weird household items, mostly – on the fire. As you progress you get letters from a mysterious but sickly-sweet neighbour, Sugar Plums, and The Weather Man. Your neighbour tells you things about the fireplace and whispers ideas to you about might be going on, while the weatherman implores you to stay indoors and burn things, because the weather is snow, snow, and more snow, forever. Between them they tell the story of the icy, fiery, smoky world of Little Inferno.

As you unlock more and more things to burn you discover that they have different effects. From a cob spitting out popcorn, to a nuclear bomb detonating in slow-motion and clearing the fireplace. There are also combinations of things that, when burned together, unlock the list of cryptic combinations that comes with your catalogue. Over time decoding these combinations becomes essential to progress, as they unlock further catalogues, containing more things to burn.

And that’s pretty much it.

Yes, if you were expecting a mature and progressively more fascinating puzzle game like World Of Goo, well, that’s not here. Little Inferno is a strange little toy-thing, with a spooky little story attached to it. The fire effects are delicious, and the feel of things roaring away as you pile them on is lovely. It’s full of details – like the scurrying chimney spiders which can be popped in the fire for extra cash – and the strange effects fire produces on various weird gizmos and contraptions (fluid effects, gravity effects, different colours and explosions) are satisfying to toy with. But cryptic crossword clue combinations aside, there isn’t much here other than something to toy with. Once you’ve ploughed it for references and silly ideas, its fire is spent.

Little Inferno is one of those little oddities of design that I am so pleased to uncover and examine, but will no doubt forget about within just a few weeks. It’s a burning fragment on the pile of gaming by-products marked “esoteric ephemera”. That’s not say there’s no value in that, just that the kind of reward we might have expected from a team whose previous credits include World Of Goo and Henry Hatsworth is strangely lacking. I don’t think you will care if you miss out on it, and I doubt anyone will be warming their toes with it this Christmas.

Little Inferno is out now.


  1. Superwhite says:

    It’s little inferno, it’s little inferno just for meeeeee.

    • Tacroy says:

      My little ‘ferno, my little ‘ferno….
      Aaah aaaaah aaaaah aaaaaaah
      (my little ‘ferno)
      I used to wonder how hot fire could be
      (my little ‘ferno)
      ’til you all shared its magic with me
      Big adventure!
      Tons of fun!
      A house on fire
      Burning apart!
      Sharing kindling
      is an easy feat
      And matches make it all complete!
      Oh you are my little ‘ferno
      Don’t you know you are my very best frieeeeeeeeeend….

      (I’m so sorry)

  2. Oozo says:

    So, basically, Tower of Goo is to World of Goo what Little Inferno is to the game people hoped for when they preordered it?

    Maybe we’ll get Big Inferno then, one day?

    (In all honesty: For all it is – and it is something, that’s sure-, being a wee bit disappointed that THOSE guys couldn’t come up with something more-ish is forgiveable. Then again, difficult second album and all that.)

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      It’s got a sort of “big idea, small game” thing going on. It works within that context. Gabler’s art is more charming than ever, and people who like Goo for the character will be thrilled by that.

  3. xandertron says:

    Damn. I feel like RPS really dropped the ball on this WIT.

    There’s a lot more going on in this game — the themes, the story, the sly criticisms of gaming culture, the fascinating environmental metaphor — but it seems like Jim missed all that and just reviewed the pure mechanics of it. It seems comparable to reviewing the tech demo of World of Goo instead of the actual game.

    Anyway, I found Little Inferno fascinating and moving. I could appreciate all the talent and time that must have gone into it. Hopefully people don’t skip over it due to this review.

    • allanschnorr says:

      If the game has all that going on, why don’t they charge an adequate price then? $15 is a lot for a game with mechanics as simple as this.

    • Gnoupi says:

      To be honest, this game seems to have only the “World of Goo corporation” part, if comparing to WoG as a whole.

      World of Goo was a great game not only because it had great mechanics or ambiance, but because it knew how to show more things with it. Every level was a variation, showing you something new to do with those mechanics.

      Now I haven’t played Little Inferno, I’m only basing on what I have seen or read about it, so I could be wrong. But so far, it doesn’t seem to have the same variety.

      • MadTinkerer says:

        Well there’s a ton of variety in the items, ways to destroy said items, ways to trigger things happening without destroying items, and the explicit combos which reward you with stamps.

    • Sunjumper says:

      While I would not go so far as to say that RPS dropped the ball on the game I do agree that there is much more to the game than just the simple (and great joy) of burning things.

      Through the slightly sinister atmosphere, the bits of narrative and what one has to do to progress through the game there is a really interesting subtext to the game. At first I was simply having fun burning stuff and smiling at the silly story but as I played on I began to feel how sinister the game was turning out to be.

      I like that as I stared into the fire I started thinking about what I was doing, what was happening in the game and I started to make connections to things outside of the game.

      So at least for me this was a rather contemplative little gem that was worth its money. (And is kept in mind as nice little infernal gift for friends.)

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Sure, I am not discounting that stuff. It’s artfully crafted to be sure. And the sinister atmosphere – as I note here – is good stuff. It’s just not interesting enough to hold my attention.

      • xandertron says:

        Fair enough. I actually admire them for taking the single-screen, laser-focused approach and concentrating on theme, rather than making it more of a puzzle game. I don’t know if it’s a “not-game” exactly (in the style of Dear Esther or Dinner Date), but it’s pretty damn close, and those are always subject to personal investment/interpretation on the part of the player.

    • Jeroen D Stout says:

      I thought this was a delightful game. Charming, pretty, witty and with a strangely profound meaning. I would say it has a strange genius to it and I am at a loss how this was ever conceived – but have spent many hours being happy it was.

      It is strangely nice to just burn things and get at the combinations – the whole mechanics of collecting coins to purchase more items (= more coins) is something I would normally have no interest in and when I first played it I had a large feeling of ‘is that it?’, but it does not take that part overly serious. Especially the narrative with Sugar Plums makes it potent for me. I like to think it has the ‘trance’ of a casual spend-money-for-money game but somehow makes it clever enough to draw me in fully.

      As to the ‘not game’ question – I am at a loss how to define this type of game. But I certainly appreciate how it is mostly just playing with fire and am impressed how much it does with that. I would certainly not want puzzles or such ‘gamey’ things. I appreciate it more as an existentialistic burning-toy. (That burns at a hundred-billion degrees.)

  4. DanielSF says:

    I’m sure it’s wonderful and all, but really? $15? Fifteen whole yankee dollars? What am I? Made of money? Pass. Maybe when it’s a third of that price or it turns up in the inevitable bundle.

    And I just checked – no, I’m definitely NOT made of money (hocking organs on the black market doesn’t count!)

  5. Cruyelo says:

    The farther I got, the more it felt like it was judging me for not doing something more worthwhile with my time instead of playing games.
    I’d give it a solid 8/10.

    Also you can burn the internet.

  6. Gnoupi says:

    And without a doubt, it is going to be in every single Humble Bundle, starting in 6 months.

    So it will be a nice thing to toy with, the day that happens.

  7. Hatsworth says:

    Price point seems a bit high for this.
    I continue to be disappointed in my creators’ later work. At least this seems interesting though — just very different — unlike Epic Mickey 3DS which by all accounts seems to be a dud.

  8. Herzog says:

    Really interested in this as I enjoyed World of Goo a lot. Think I will wait for the android version, because the trailer seems to suggest it is suited for touchscreens. Price should be lower then too.

  9. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    The fire effects are lovely. All licking flickering twisting hissing tongues of flame, burning blackening cracking and reduce-to-ashing everything in the fireplace. And then all the different toys to burn, each with their own particular effects. All I wanted to do was try more and more new toys to see what burning them would do. And the game wouldn’t let me.

    You see, to unlock a catalogue of new things, you need to make predefined combos, by burning two or three specific things at once. And the combos are terribly boring, because they don’t produce any new special effects, just a “combo found” message. So I didn’t find the combos at all fun to try. It was just a tedious slog to do enough combos to unlock the new catalogue.

    And you also have to have bought every single thing from the current catalogue before you can get to the next catalogue. As the items get more expensive, you need more coins to buy them. You get coins whenever you burn things, but only a few more than you spent to get the thing. So as you near the end of a catalogue, you end up buying things you already burned just to grind a few more coins to afford the next item to burn. At least burning new things is fun.

    And then the waiting! Every item you order from the catalogue takes time to deliver—up to several minutes!—and the more expensive items (and the later catalogues) take longer. So the fire burning the previous toy flickers and dies, and you sit there bored with nothing to do while waiting for the next package’s delivery timer to count down.

    You can speed up delivery by spending stamps. Each stamp will knock one minute off the delivery time for an item. You occasionally get stamps when you burn single things or squash bugs, but the main way to get stamps is by finding combos, and remember how exciting that was? Yeah.

    So the game makes you do a lot of waiting, or if you don’t want to wait, you can do boring tasks to reduce the waiting. And you’ll have to far too many of the boring tasks anyway, if you want to see new items or progress the story.

    By the end it had all become a horrible grind. I have a suspicion that this is intentional as part of the anti-consumerism message that the game thinly disguises—ignore the hypocrisy of such a message in a consumer entertainment product—but it just made the game no fun. There’s a sort of mini-adventure-game coda after the burning part is done, and it was a welcome break, but not actually very interesting.

    But the game started off delightfully. If only they’d just let it be a toy, and not try and force progression and narrative into it, it would have been lovely.


    I made a pirate rob a bank, with a hijacked bus. He stood on top of the bus at one side of the fireplace, and the bank was at the other side. I set alight the front of the bus, and the driver and passengers screamed as the bus accelerated into the bank. The fire spread to the bank, bursting open the vaults and spraying little bits of loose change all over the fireplace. Then “Yar” said the pirate, as he caught fire and burned up too.

    I didn’t unlock anything by doing that, but that little bit of play was more fun than anything the game wanted me to do.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      “By the end it had all become a horrible grind. I have a suspicion that this is intentional as part of the anti-consumerism message that the game thinly disguises”

      It’s a blatant dig at the way the entertainment industry burns through ideas for our amusement.

      • bluebomberman says:

        But then the game burns through $15 a pop for a not-much-of-a-game. Pot calling the kettle black?

        • MadTinkerer says:

          But Minecraft is “not much of a game” in a very similar way. Other than the procedurally generated landscapes and awesome community-made things, obviously.

        • Baines says:

          I still can’t decide if the $15 price tag is an insult, greed, misapprehension, or whatever else.

      • MadTinkerer says:

        “It’s a blatant dig at the way the entertainment industry burns through ideas for our amusement.”

        Aha! So that’s the metaphor! I knew there was one there, but was too distracted by all the burning things.

    • Spoon Of Doom says:

      That “waiting or spending stamps” part sounds almost like they intended this to be a free to play game, then for some reason changed their mind but left the F2P mechanics in.

      • Bhazor says:

        They pretty much did. It basically is an iOS/Facebook game they forgot to add microtransactions to.

        • MadTinkerer says:

          Really, no.

          The “money” mechanic acts partly as a currency but mostly as a “leveling” mechanic, and ties into event triggers when you’re playing through the story. The timers and coupons are a subtle way of encouraging combos, but you get more coupons as you destroy more expensive items, so it’s more like a “speed up building this structure” mechanic.

          There’s no way this game would work as F2P. It’s partly a parody of consumerism, and F2P itself is a tragic parody of consumerism forced onto MMOs due to Marketing, but it doesn’t work like a F2P game at all.

      • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

        Yes, it’s exactly like that.

        But as there are no microtransactions to buy coins or stamps, I’m merely disappointed in how un-fun it is, rather than also being annoyed at the exploitation.

    • jatan says:

      velvet-you are pretty spot on- it seems like an ios 2 quid game- i suspect/guess/just gassing that either they were wrapped up in their message and narrative or they ‘chickened out’- they have this toy- but they lost the nerve and put grind in there and points (money) to gamify (is that correct?) it. there is a toy there now and it could be a great toy with work but they explored another avenue/backed away…

  10. Bhazor says:

    No interest in the game, especially at $15. But I have to say the marketing to this really pissed me off. It’s the most cynical fan baiting I’ve ever seen from an indie.

    Getting fans to pay $15 without telling them anything about the game or releasing any press for it? But I’m guessing someone will defend it saying it’s a message about consumerism. To me it’s just a message that Kyle Gabler is a dick.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Other than the specific mechanics of the coins and coupons, the trailers were pretty explicit about what the game is about. It’s a game about throwing a lot of stuff into a fireplace and burning everything. Of course, it’s really about combos, but how many Street Fighter trailers mention combos?

      The only thing I’m disappointed in is that if more of the one-off items actually do anything, it’s hidden far too well for me to figure out.

      • LionsPhil says:

        The issue there, at least for me, is that the trailer made me think they were being coy and there must be something beyond that. I mean, World of Goo did, and this is the same devs, right?

      • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

        Except it’s not about combos. The combos are just a hurdle to slow your progression through the game.

  11. gravity_spoon says:

    Jim how high you were when you played this game ? :D

  12. NekroJakub says:

    So… didn’t play through to the end, did you?

  13. MadTinkerer says:

    My opinion: This game has immense replay value. IT IS SO MUCH FUN TO BURN THINGS, and some of the combos require a lot of experimentation. There’s burning, freezing, slicing, shattering, grinding, smashing, exploding, disintegrating (via “disease”), and probably a few other methods of destruction I’m overlooking.

    Once you’ve unlocked all the items and seen the ending once, it’s basically a physics playground with an emphasis on destroying things and/or delicately avoiding destroying some of them. Send clones to the moon! Put on a short, firey opera! Or just try to figure out the rest of the combos.

    It’s short on individual playthroughs (though the one character does point out how many items you ordered, so you can try to get to the end in as few moves as you can), and it’s nothing like World of Goo. It is it’s own thing, and I enjoyed it.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      Does it let you keep playing with all the toys after the end? If so, *and* if there’s an easy way to skip the main game and go straight to that (save game?), then I’d recommend it for new players. Then you get to explore the core of the game without the tedium.

      • Oozo says:

        Yes, you can in fact play on after the end, and you get infinite money to spend. Unfortunately, you don’t have infinite stamps, so you still have to wait for each object to be delivered… which is kinda bizarre and annoying.
        (The argument made above, about it being a way to structure the progress, is correct, I think – but in the “sandbox mode”, there’s really no excuse for it anymore.)

  14. MrUnimport says:

    I watched a stream of basically the entire game. Yeah, it’s got heart. Yeah, there’s effort put in. But, like a child’s first pottery attempt, sometimes the effort you put into a thing is not reflected in the value of the thing that comes out. Searching for combos is like a not-particularly-entertaining crossword: there’s no reward but stamps and a little noise and a progress bar. Maybe this is a criticism of Farmvilleesque games but I expect more from criticism than “we are reminding you that this is a thing that exists, and hold still because we are going to subject you to it.” Burning things is fun, but ultimately a disappointing variety of items ends up, surprise surprise, burning the exact same way. The main thing the game has to offer is the thrill of unlocking new catalogue items and their often fairly entertaining descriptions. But if I paid fifteen dollars for a series of mild chuckles spread out over an hour or two, I’d be quite disappointed.

    The storyline, such as it is, is loose and disconnected and really doesn’t have much substance. There are a couple of chilling lines, a couple of neat images, but ultimately it doesn’t come to much, and “contemplative” is quite overselling it in my opinion. It provokes a certain mood, but nothing that you probably didn’t expect if you’d seen so much as a video of World of Goo.

  15. Lone Gunman says:

    If it was £5 I would defiantly buy it but £10 is too much.Being a student makes you so stingy :(

  16. e-dog says:

    It’s a game about stopping playing games and going out to see the world. Also burning things.

  17. cool4345 says:

    Actually quite interested in this. I’ll most likely be picking it up during the christmas sales.
    So it’s just me then who thinks that this is the most interesting game that’s been released for quite a while now?

  18. Demievil says:

    I think you should mention that it’s over £10 for less than 2 hours of game play.

  19. The Sombrero Kid says:

    Money well spent

  20. engion3 says:

    This game is very similar to that alchemy web based game if anyone has ever played it. I enjoyed it and think it was worth 15 bucks. It has a great UI and is amusing. A breath of fresh air and originality from the usual game. Burn baby burn.