Platform: Wii U, PC (version reviewed)
Developer: Tommorrow Corporation
Publisher: Tomorrow Corporation
Santa didn't give me the bike, teddy, Lego or iPod I wanted last year. He gave me a Little Inferno fireplace, where all your dreams come true by burning rejected toys, gadgets and other items into crumbly ash. After only a few hours of watching pretty flames and dolls slowly disintegrating, my fireplace burned down my house and signaled the apocalypse. Why is Santa such an arsehole?
This cozy fireplace is meant to keep me warm during the long snow blizzards. I think it's been snowing the past few months. Might've been the last few years. I lose track of time when it wastes into vibrant flame, right before your eyes.
Little Inferno is a game about dragging and dropping items to burn because the story tells you to. You order your flammable affairs from a catalogue, accompanied with cheery department store music. "BUY MORE ITEMS TO GAIN MORE CURRENCY," it reads. Yes, you read right. You actually buy stuff to burn, to get more money then you had before. It's like a twisted version of Crazy Warehouse Guy, who's gone so insane that he's become reverse-capitalist and is paying you to get rid of his black-humoured junk. Discount sushi and a rabies raccoon plushie, anyone?
But as a spoiled child of the iPod generation, I demand everything now, if not sooner. Every time you place an order, you have to wait anywhere from one to five minutes waiting. Waiting for your junk to arrive. So you can burn it. So you can get money to buy more stuff. To wait again. So you can burn that. To get more money to buy more junk. Are you seeing a pattern here? Because if that sounds like a fantastic escapist getaway to you, don't bother reading the rest of this review. Go out and play it.
For the rest of you, Little Inferno's pretentious commentary on the frivolity of entertainment will hit you in the first ten minutes or so. It's black-humoured descriptions of various catalogue items will amuse, and the soundtrack and whimsy art direction will impress, but the only thing possibly gluing you to the game is the hopeless curiosity for the punchline. Or faith that it even has one.
After all, surely this transparent exploitation of hooking players in with a breadcrumb trail of continually superfluous content comes with some kind of ingenious twist, message or payoff. The kind of payoff that would inspire Peter Molyneux to start up three more studios. The kind of pay off that'll make you realise Tomorrow Corporation weren't degrading the very medium they strive to make products for. Long story short, it doesn't come, with the game's conclusion poetically reinforcing that you did just waste your time, with everything turning to ash a metaphor of lost time and a sign of things to come. Great.
The game also has the audacity to pin up an achievement checklist of items to combine and set alight simultaneously (a minimum amount of which are required to progress the "story"), additionally unlocking tokens to 'fast track' shipped goods. The only way to figure out what items to use is to clue in from reading the name of the achievement, which ranges from the bleeding obvious to the pathetically ambiguous. To top it off, you don't see any unique or interesting animation from setting two items on fire, just an entry filled in your meaningless, little sticker book.
As if to somehow justify the three hour time-waste to its melancholy conclusion, Little Inferno even tries to impede your vapid frying with caring, yearning letters of a little girl, also stupidly addicted to her fireplace. Intended to pull the heart strings, her notes explicitly read as a pounding reminder of the kind of time you could be playing or doing something else.
Little Inferno is what'll resemble your mood if you were to play this and value your time and intelligence simultaneously. Tomorrow Corporation might have the gonads to be pretentious about entertainment, but they don't seem to realise that their own software is the worst culprit of its own bleak message. It's a game that looks gorgeous and sounds amazing, but only lavishes pretty wallpaper to a gaping, hollow cave of player degradation and game mechanics that are fundamentally retarded. It disrespects you, it disrespects your time, and asks for $15 for the privilege. It's downright unethical.
If you're after funny postmodern games with a self-mocking image, download the far more brief, respecting, less arrogant and free Achievement Unlocked flash game. It won't rob your digital wallet like Little Inferno will.