What exactly is Little Inferno? Is it a fourth-wall-breaking analysis of modern throwaway consumerism, set against the all too familiar backdrop of a tempestuous environmental mutation? Perhaps it’s an existential commentary, an experiment laboured with the task of projecting the developer’s qualms regarding a detached and insular society onto an increasingly distant audience? Maybe it’s an attempt by Tomorrow Corporation to redefine meta-gaming as we know it into something tangential, something more self-aware, cynical and utterly satirical.
It’s certainly about burning things.
Everything’s Got to Burn
Discussing Little Inferno without completely ruining it is difficult, but necessary. The central mechanical concept is a case of introducing shop-bought objects, ordered from sequentially unlocked catalogues, into the eponymous fireplace and setting fire to them. Combinations of certain objects cause various effects and reward the user with money and stamps (used to speed up the delivery of purchased items). The names of combos are listed in their own specific tab, and whilst some are insultingly apparent many are infuriatingly obtuse. A set number of combos are required to progress on to the next catalogue, but the prerequisite numbers are small enough to ensure the more difficult ones are never a barrier to progress. That would defeat the point because, make no mistake, Little Inferno is not a game. It quite literally declares this from the off and without any degree of irony. Mechanically, it’s a toy (succinct analogy provided courtesy of Jake). Conceptually it’s an experience.
The Things We Lost in the Fire
That description hardly does justice to the sheer emotional wonder that the simulation provides. There is much more to the product of course, including a story. Whilst going about the unsettling business of burning objects, the player receives communique from a variety of sources. Sometimes it’ll be the creator of the in-universe Little Inferno, sometimes a neighbour who’s as much Carl Sagan as incineration enthusiast. Starting as fairly inane banter, the atmosphere builds to a crescendo of Murakami-esque proportions. It’s difficult not to get absorbed; the emotional response to the narrative metamorphosis that occurs in the title’s swan song is equal parts gut-punch and elation. The superb music that accompanies throughout acts as a faithful companion, adding to the curiousness that so duly rewards players that persist to the final act.
Ultimately, Little Inferno offers warmth to a market that can appear vacuous in way of originality. Granted it should feel more repetitive than it actually does. The incentive to play again is minimal too, offering little more than asteismus to an initial playthrough, and doing so only risks irrevocably contaminating the previous journey. But after the curtain falls the realisation dawns on the player that, actually, Little Inferno is about a great deal many things. Burning things is at the bottom of that list.