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.