Little Inferno is a game that I went into with low expectations. After all, I’ve always found World of Goo to be interminably boring, and the two games share many elements to the point where the goo balls even make a cameo appearance. Strangely enough, however, I became enraptured by the game’s endless, surprisingly dark humor, and wound up binge-playing through the entire game in a single day. To be fair, it’s only four or so hours long, but that’s still quite a bit of playing for one day, especially when you consider the fact that this game is, at its core, a “burning things” simulator. Rejoice, pyromaniacs.
There’s actually a story
This is something that tends to get lost in the noise around the gameplay, but there’s definitely a story. While burning things in your Little Inferno fireplace, you’ll occasionally receive mail from the weatherman, the (fictional in-game) creator of the fireplace, and your bubbly, spelling and grammar-impaired neighbor, Sugar Plumps. While this first seems to be completely random and without meaning, it eventually turns into a story that’s impossible to describe in detail without ruining the entire plot. Suffice it to say that it’s artsy and skimps on a lot of details in favor of creating something wonderfully vague and imaginative. That may be something few indie games manage to succeed at doing, with most games that try coming across more pretentious than anything, but I felt that it worked remarkably well in Little Inferno.
And those characters!
Sugar Plumps and the creator of the fireplace are insane people, with a special emphasis put on Sugar Plumps in particular. She’s the embodiment of what Little Inferno as a game is all about—juxtaposing something weirdly sweet and innocent with something insanely dark. She alternates between moments of philosophical rambling and what appear to be manic episodes that you can’t help but love, and while I tend to hate bubbly characters, there was something about Sugar Plumps that ensured that I was always looking forward to her next letter.
The weatherman, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. The messages you get from him are almost universally dark, backed up by foreboding music, though he has whimsical qualities mixed in with his darker, doomsaying personality. There may only be a small handful of characters who you’ll interact with throughout the game, but that’s more than enough given how colorful they’re all capable of being.
Burn things, earn money, repeat
This is what most of the game consists of. When you purchase something and burn it (burning being as simple as left-clicking on PC), you get more money than it was originally worth, meaning you can purchase more and more items the more you burn. Different items have different effects, as well, such as exploding, freezing, nuking everything on screen, singing, and even changing the color and shape of your flames. It is, at its core, an incredibly simple and straightforward game.
Of combos and catalogs
Burning certain items together results in “combinations,” which is basically the only thing that’s counted in this game. You have to look at an in-game list and try to figure out which items have to be burned together for the combo, and since new catalogs of items only become available once you’ve successfully achieved a certain number of combos, they provide a nice sense of forward progression. This forward progression is also helped along by the demented nature of many of the items, such as the “Midlife Crisis Mitigator” (in reality, just bottles of wine). Each successive catalog seems to have weirder and weirder items, ensuring that you continue to push forward despite the simplicity of the gameplay.
You’ve got mail
You’re not able to blindly order every item in the catalog to force out combos by buying everything at once, though. The number of items you can order at once is limited by the size of your mailbox (which, while upgradable, is still limited to 7 items at its max), and while you can remove them from your mailbox and put them in the fireplace without burning them, you’ll eventually reach a point where the game forces you to burn what’s in the fireplace before you’re able to buy anything else. This means that it’s almost always a better idea to try and figure out combos rather than blindly ordering a bunch of stuff and hoping you accidentally stumble on one.
The waiting game/speedhack
Every game has flaws, and Little Inferno’s biggest flaw would be the wait times when ordering items. The game is supposedly meant as a parody of certain games—presumably the mobile-oriented games that use wait timers to encourage the player to spend money on in-app purchases—so the wait times are obviously intentional, but this also makes the later parts of the game unnecessarily tedious as you’re forced to wait 2-3 minutes for many items in the last catalog to show up into your mailbox. However, on the PC this proved to be a non-issue thanks to Cheat Engine. I honestly don’t know how I ever got along without its speedhack feature, because being able to speed games up at will is an insanely helpful feature that helps counter the annoying wait times many games force you to contend with.
There are also “tomorrow stamps” that you pick up over the course of burning things. These can drastically speed up the delivery of items, cutting down even the longest wait time so that you only have to wait mere seconds, though they’re an expendable resource that you never seem to have enough of. How they work is that it costs one stamp per 30 seconds of wait time left, so cutting down a shipping time of 1 to 30 seconds costs one stamp, while 30 seconds to 1 minute costs two, and so on. As you can imagine, this is handy toward the beginning but rapidly becomes less feasible as the late-game items start costing 4-5 stamps to speed up.
Then, everything suddenly changes
You spend the majority of the game looking directly at your Little Inferno fireplace in a first-person view, but the game changes entirely at the very end, becoming something totally different than everything that precedes it. I don’t want to ruin this for anyone since my lack of knowledge about it made it that much sweeter, so I’m being intentionally vague, but suffice it to say that I was very happy with how unpredictable the game ended up being. If you don’t mind having the sudden change-up spoiled for you, however, then be sure to check out my dedicated page of screenshots, the end of which shows the shift in gameplay. The screenshots at the end of this review, on the other hand, are entirely spoiler-free.
Where are the options?
Seriously, there’s no options menu in the PC version of the game. I looked everywhere, but apparently the only way to change things is to tweak a settings file in the game folder outside of the game, which is hardly ideal. However, the graphics are actually pretty decent, being colorful and reminiscent of World of Goo in the best of ways. It’s also worth mentioning that the game doesn’t require a lot out of your graphics card, so the chance that you’ll actually have to change some of the graphic settings is on the low side. As for the negatives, you spend 90% of the game staring at a fireplace, so the visuals can definitely get a little fatiguing toward the end of the game. The catalogs and items are colorful and help to keep that from becoming an actively negative thing, but it’s still a bit much after three or so hours.
Upbeat, fitting music
I’ve already mentioned that I didn’t like World of Goo overall, but one of the things I always liked about it was the music. Little Inferno has even better music, in my opinion, capturing the overall mood of the game by being mostly upbeat and in a major chord while occasionally shifting to something darker (and like I mentioned earlier, foreboding when you get mail from the weatherman). Another thing I like about it is that music only plays when you read your mail or go into item catalogs; when you’re actually burning things, the only sound you hear is the crackling of the fire and miscellaneous sound effects. It all adds up to a completely unique type of soundtrack for a completely unique type of game.
Here’s what you should do: