Sawbuck Gamer

Little Inferno

Ooh, Burn!

Little Inferno is wonderful, and you’ll hate yourself for playing it.

By Ryan Smith • April 22, 2013

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap game ($10 or less).

I’m aware of the irony of sitting in my home office and staring slack-jawed into my laptop to type up a review of Little Inferno. Created by Tomorrow Corporation—a small team that include a designer of the indie favorite World Of GooLittle Inferno lampoons addictive video games and our modern tech-obsessed lives, too often spent peering into small glowing rectangles all day.

Most of the action centers around the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace, a device which acts as an anti-Katamari Damacy. Instead of collecting all of the stuffed toys, sushi rolls, and household appliances, you gleefully toss them into a firebox and set them ablaze. Items can be purchased from seven themed catalogs, each with its own biting Devil’s Dictionary-style description (a bottle of liquor, for example, is labeled “Midlife Crisis Mitigator.”) The newly charred remains yield gold coins, which in turn can be used to buy even more flammable goodies.

Vague assurances for your arson come via letters sent by Sugar Plumps, a little girl also enjoying her own fireplace, or from Miss Nancy, the fictional CEO of the company that created the Little Inferno ( “Just make a nice fire and stay warm in the glow of your high definition entertainment product,” Miss Nancy writes). As the game progresses, the messages turn darker and the absurdity of your activities comes to the fore. But even after I encountered the game’s more pointed commentary, Little Inferno had won me over so thoroughly that I couldn’t help but mindlessly set more stuff on fire. As a result, the joke is ultimately on the player. This is a waste of your life, Tomorrow Corporation says. But you can’t help but play, can you? It’s a taunt that hits close to home. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go outside.

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10 Responses to “Ooh, Burn!”

  1. aklab says:

    I played this a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed the 5-6 hours I got out of it. 

    I think some genres work better in some media (mediums?) than others. For example, I rarely like action movies but I enjoy a lot of action games. And satire is one of those genres that, until now, I didn’t think could really translate into games. Little Inferno does it beautifully. 

  2. Girard says:

    I had thought this was only a Wii-U game. I’m tempted to check it out, but not sure how I feel about a game that is designed to make me feel a bit of a fool…

    Folks interested in similarly notable indie fare (especially folks without an XBox) might be happy to hear that preorders on Fez for PC just opened on today. It’s only $9, DRM-free, etc.

    • Ryan Smith says:

      Girard, it’s probably overstating it to say that it’s designed to make you feel like a fool. It’s an addictive game that satirizes addictive games and consumerism, etc., but it doesn’t really throw it in your face. Reading the iTunes user reviews, it seems like there’s plenty of people who don’t even really notice the subtext of the game. They just see it as an amusing distraction.

    • Ryan Smith says:

      Weird, Discus totally deleted my reply.

      • Girard says:

        I got an email notification with the reply, and am still seeing it up. Maybe there was just a hiccup the last time you checked?

  3. duwease says:

    That perfectly paced reward system in games that keeps you addicted is now perfected to the point that it’s basically just a mechanical exercise to replicate.  But it has an undeniable power to keep you playing even if you know how it works, and there’s very little game surrounding it.

    Hell, look at the early popular Facebook games like Mafia Wars that were literally that reward algorithm tied to a button and an ever-increasing progress bar, with nothing more than some mafia-themed GIFs and flavor text to indicate you were doing anything more but clicking that button and watching that bar go up.

    • Enkidum says:

      Yeah, when I first got my iPhone I spent hours playing… uh… I forget what it was called even, some Mafia Wars clone but with location-based stuff (you could see who had stuff near your location and raid them, etc). Then I figured out just how pathetic it made me feel.

  4. Eco1970 says:

    Not going to spend anything on this. No idea how it plays. That screenshot gives nothing away, the review doesn’t either. You got your feelings etc over ok, but a little info on what you actually do would be nice. Do you have an avatar? Is there more to the gameworld than that room? Any twitch skills involved in tossing?

    • aklab says:

      1) no avatar, well, not much of one, at least for most of the game
      2) 95% of the game takes place in that room
      3) no skill involved. There are combinations you unlock by burning certain items together. You have to guess at the combinations based on the punny names. 

      All that said, the mystery of how it plays was what made it interesting to me. It’s worth picking up on sale at least — I got it in a 50% Steam sale. 

      Oh and *SPOILER maybe?*

      The world opens up in a fairly dramatic way near the end.  

  5. I had a lot of fun with World Of Goo. One of the rare games that seems to play better with a touchscreen rather than being limited by it.