Little Inferno Review (Switch)
Originally released as a launch title for the Wii U back in 2012, the sadistic underage pyromaniac simulator Little Inferno brings its flawed interactive fireplace to the Switch.
Little Inferno takes place in a first-person view of a fireplace known as the “Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace”, where the child character is encouraged to purchase and burn various household items. Burning items earns the player money – more money than the item was worth, because logic – which can then be spent on more burnable objects. Setting more things ablaze unlocks more catalogues of items that interact differently with the fireplace. The game mechanics do not vary much at all from this formula, but as is the case with Tomorrow Corporation games, there is always more than meets the eye.
Woven in between its fiery shenanigans is a plot of a city forever trapped in a wintry blizzard of snow, and children are advised to combat this by continuing to burn more things. Other characters converse with the player via mail correspondence which adds connected side-plots and subtle clues as to what is happening in the outside world. Delivered via innocent, cheery writing, Little Inferno strikes a thinly veiled sinister tone amplified by the carefree wonder of a child. Combined with Tomorrow Corporation’s Tim Burton-esque cute-yet-dark art style – and a strongly emotive soundtrack – the game creates a complex world that defies its simple (and only) game mechanic.
A disclaimer for those who played the Wii U version (or any other platforms), the Switch iteration is the exact same game with an additional controller option – the Joy-Con. A singular Joy-Con can be used as a pointer to make selections and interact with the game while docked or in handheld mode; it feels responsive and accurate, but it needs re-centring too often to be used long-term. The best way to play is in handheld mode using the touch screen, as it offers the most reliable control.
The Switch version also comes bundled with the full original soundtrack, which can be listened to in the game. A nice addition, but ultimately unnecessary considering the soundtrack can be downloaded in its entirety for free online. It’s a fantastic listen, filled with bombastic cinematic sounds mixed with cutesy jingles to set the game’s strong tone.
Without making it sound like I need to be admitted into an asylum, Little Inferno makes setting its plethora of interactive objects alight an amusingly tactile experience. All the items interact and burn in unique ways. Some plush toys scream in terror, while other innocuous items yield hilarious results which won’t be spoiled here. Its in-game achievement system provides a list of combinations to discover which rewards the player with prize tickets. Figuring out these combos comprises the bulk of the fun in Little Inferno; only the title and number of items required for each combo is listed, as it is entirely up to you to figure out what items need to be incinerated together. Later in the game, progression is only possible after completing a specific number of combos. Some of these can be tricky to figure out – the early combinations follow simple logic, whereas latter combos are more abstract in nature. Solving combinations is a bit like being given the punchline and trying to figure out the joke that matches – when it clicks, the results are often very funny.
Unfortunately, Little Inferno struggles to maintain the fun throughout its few-hour runtime. An obvious satire of the freemium and social gaming industry, purchasing items in Little Inferno results in waiting for delivery in real-time. Cheap items are usually delivered in under 30 seconds, but the late-game objects are closer to five minutes. But wait! For just a few prize tickets (the ones earned from combos), you can have immediate delivery of your item! Regardless of the satirical intentions behind the mock-microtransaction feature, it doesn’t make it any less tedious. Grinding for tickets and waiting for items is the main area where Little Inferno disappoints, especially considering there isn’t much to do other than burn the occasional spider that appears in the fireplace. It kills any momentum the game builds and is reminiscent of an annoying friend who is painstakingly oblivious to when the joke is no longer funny.
Little Inferno has a surprisingly large number of things happening at once, but only if you read into it. Is it a social commentary on climate change, or the wasted innocence of youth? Is it a meta-experience about the financial exploitation of video game players and consumers? It can be all the above, and more, if you perceive it. The writers are to be commended for packing so much into such an unassuming-looking game, if only the gameplay allowed more investment from the player.