Little Inferno Gleefully Ignites the Deep Dark Pyro Within
Feb 4, 2013 5:00 AM PT
Little Inferno is an iPad 2 game available in the iTunes App Store for US$4.99.
From what I've seen of humanity, there's a little pyro locked inside most of us. Maybe it's a universal longing to chase away the darkness with warmth and light, or maybe it's just a genetic quirk coded into our DNA from the days of the Ice Age when cooking up a wooly mammoth meant survival.
Or maybe we just really like to see things burn. I know the editors behind the iTunes App Store do -- they elevated Little Inferno as an Editor's Choice selection.
Either way, there's something dark, twisted, and eerily fun about burning things on your iPad with Little Inferno. The game is set in some town in some future in someplace where the world is beset by ceaseless snow storms and cold. Fortunately, Tomorrow Corporation has invented fireplaces for kids that they can use in their homes to burn all their stuff. And in fact, they are encouraged to set fire to it all.
Burn your alarm clock, TV, credit cards. Burn up batteries that explode, soda that also explodes, and spider egg sacs that explode into little fiery balls of burning baby spiders. Burn up your stuffed animals, teeny nuclear bombs, and a mini moon. Burn up a toaster and smile as living toast flies out, then burns, too. Burn one-eyed bugs, a pirate doll and discount sushi.
Sounds dark, doesn't it? Maybe even a bit subversive.
Little Inferno is as bad as it seems -- worse maybe -- but also much better. There's a story line to go with the burning, and a little next door neighbor girl named "Sugar Plumps" who sends you letters that help explain the situation and drive the story.
How It Works
So the premise is to burn, right, but the action is staged around catalogs. By burning an object, you get coins, which lets you order more items from your catalogs. Burn them and you're rewarded with colored fires, satisfying explosions, screams, and other physical activity that can let you combine items to create interesting effects.
After you burn something, you get more coins, which let you order and burn more stuff. There are half a dozen catalogs with 20 items inside, so there's a lot to burn. To open a new catalog, you must burn everything in the previous catalog -- even the toy school bus.
While there's no rhyme or reason to most of the burning, there are 99 combinations that you can create. Combine an alarm clock with some flowers to burn the Springtime Combo. Each combo comes with a basic clue, like Movie Night Combo. Without playing the game, you can likely guess the two elements you need.
Still, not all are easy, and some require leaps of memory and imagination. As you might have guessed, I can't recommend this game for small children, let alone some teenagers, so most adults should be able to get quite a few of the combos without straining too hard.
The ambience of the game is absolutely delightful. The touch-based dragging, dropping, placement and ignition are fantastic. You can stack stuffed animals on top of blocks and batteries, and the objects will move with physics engine-based realism. The sound effects are excellent, the crackling of the fire mesmerizing.
Hurry Up and Wait
There's no real score in the game, no in-app purchases, no upselling. It's just the game on it's own terms. I like that quite a bit. Along with the combos, you're basically stuck in a loop where you order something then wait for it to arrive. Later in the game, the delivery time gets to be a couple minutes per item.
You can wait or speed up the delivery with a couple of additional coins. Along the way, you get ominous weather reports from the weather man, and Sugar Plumps starts sharing interesting comments about the nature of your town and the way a ham sandwich managed to come from the burning explosion of something far away and long ago in the universe.
These sorts of layered metaphors, in addition to the great graphics, elevate Little Inferno to the status of a masterpiece. And the end? It'll take a couple hours for you to get there. Fortunately, most of it will get filled by combos and messing around -- but if you're the type who simply must charge ahead without paying attention, well, you can pretty much do that, too.
If you're not convinced yet that this game is worth $4.99 and a few hours of your time, look deep inside of yourself and ask, "If you burn a doll or stuffed animal with cartoon eyes that move and look, will that seem freakish and terrible . . . or maybe twisted in a half-smile sort of way?"
If you can get past that and are willing to suspend disbelief and take Little Inferno on its own terms, you'll enjoy it. Immensely, I bet.