Little Inferno is this weird little puzzle game from the makers of World of Goo. Honestly, I had never heard of it before I saw it sitting there in the Wii U digital store, looking all interesting and different and only $10. It was the video embedded above that sold me on it. Dark humor? Old timey-time jingles? Kids burning all their childhood memories? That sounded exactly like the kind of thing I needed to break in my brand-new Wii U (thanks, Santa!). And boy, am I glad I did. Little Inferno is terrific.
The game has a simple premise: you are sitting in front of a fireplace, and you throw your toys into it before lighting them on fire. Then you buy more, have them delivered, and you light those toys on fire, too, all with a touch of your hot little finger. After burning, the toys give you money to buy new toys and stamps to have them delivered faster. The neat part is that they give you more money post-burning than they cost to buy, so the process eventually earns you more and more cash, allowing you to buy and burn bigger and badder toys. It’s simple, and the learning curve is such that you will pick up the basics quickly because, frankly, there’s nothing else to do besides chuck toys into this oven while a cheery, crackling fire offsets the morbidity of some of your actions. The sound/music in general is just great, as well.
There’s also a combo system where you solve short – and in some cases, incredibly difficult – riddles. You get a descriptive combo name as a clue, then you have to burn two or three specific items together to earn stamps and advance the plot. Most of the combos make perfect sense once more toys are revealed to you as the game progresses – there is very little super-obtuse adventure game puzzle trickery.
The pacing and storytelling of the game are my favorite parts, though. You never feel rushed or hurried to burn toys any faster or slower than you already are, and you unlock new catalogs full of toys as fast as you choose. Every few minutes, you’ll receive a letter in the mail from one of a handful of colorful characters. They paint a picture of the bleak world outside your house – far away from your fireplace, warmth, and safety. The Weather Man speaks of the clouds, the snow, and the darkness, while a little girl wants to be your best friend. The letters are frequent and cryptic enough that you will be totally sucked into this world, eagerly awaiting your next correspondence. Sometimes you even write back.
There isn’t an infinite amount of toys, however. Eventually, you burn everything, and then… Well, then you get one of my favorite endings from any video game I’ve ever finished. I’ve already spoiled too many of the game mechanics here (although it’s nothing you wouldn’t have been able to figure out for yourself in a few seconds), and I refuse to rob you of the satisfaction and wonder of the end of this incredibly interesting story. It leaves just enough questions about this wondrous world to keep you thinking, while simultaneously being just so, so satisfying, if a bit bittersweet.
Little Inferno, in fact, is just about perfect. The only complaints I can come up with are that a few of the combos are a bit too, “Who would have ever guessed that?” as well as the fact that the game doesn’t really do anything on the Wii U that couldn’t have been done on the 3DS, iPhone/iPad, or even Steam (where you non-Wii U people can get the game for an introductory 33% off until January 5).
Bottom line? Little Inferno is the best new indie game on the market, and it puts the storytelling of even most AAA titles to shame, all with the elegant simplicity of a single-mechanic casual game that’ll stick in your mind like no other.
5 Gumballs out of 5