Sunday, December 29, 2013

Game Play: A Spoileriffic Look at Little Inferno

I just spent six hours setting things on fire. My thoughts on Little Inferno, after the break.
The weather's been getting colder. Everyone is staying indoors, in their own houses, and burning things to stay warm. But why shouldn't burning things be fun? That's the premise behind Little Inferno. The entirety (well, majority) of the game is sitting in front of a fireplace, buying an item from one of the game's catalogues, and setting it on fire. This produces coins, for some reason (and the game itself draws attention to how nonsensical that premise is), which can be used to buy more catalog items. Buy them all and find enough combos, and you unlock the next catalog. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Essentially, it's Plato's Cave, mixed with senseless destruction and consumerism.

That said, the game gets a lot of mileage out of this simple play. The descriptions of the catalog items show humor, and you really have a lot of control over what you place in the fireplace--it was an hour or two in before I realized that where I picked up an item (the head or the foot of a teddy bear, for example) changed how it moved while I dragged it, and that I not only could start fires, I could also destroy items just by slamming them viciously against the walls. And each item is unique, not just in appearance, but in terms of how it burns and what it does in the fireplace. Stink bugs make the fire flare in strange colors, the cello gives off a haunting melody as it burns, the toaster, when heated, shoots out toast that screams joyfully then with horror as it is born and burnt. (It's a very macabre game, if you haven't figured that part out yet.)

The one complicating factor is the combo system; if you burn certain items simultaneously, you are credited for discovering a combo, and get rewarded stamps. Why do you want stamps? It takes time for an ordered catalog item to arrive, and so stamps reduce that time period--the time mechanic is where the game is most obviously originally an app game, as mechanics that limit the amount of playing you can do based on time is pretty common for them.

 For example, if you burn the Honest Abe Fireworks with the Russian Nesting Doll, you get the  "Cold War Combo." For each combo, you only have two clues: the name of the combo, and its placement on the list of combos--the combos earliest on the list, for example, can be made with items only on the first catalog; the combos at the end of the list may require items from any of the game's seven catalogs. For some clues, it's really necessary to pay attention--to the descriptions, to how they burn, to how they affect other items. The combos bring a sort of reverse-rebus aspect to the game, and the puzzles, simple as they are, are necessary to give it a little forward momentum. That said, they weren't enough by themselves to compel me to stay; after I finished the game, I didn't bother going back to find more combos. 81/99 is fine for me.

That leaves the story. Considering the premise, there's actually a few characters in the game: your demented neighbor, the demented owner of the Future Corporation Company who is encouraging you to burn, and the demented weatherman, flying above the city. (Yes, they're all a bit demented. It's a game where you set stuff on fire. Demented is the normal.) It's the tone that makes the game work, as the sense that there's something sinister going on underlies the joyful flames and play. In interviews, the developers have said that their goal was to create a game where the story was not immediately spelled out for the players, that it started simple and built to something more. That notion works very well for the most part, but I think it lags by the game's end. At that point, it seems that the only message is that you need to leave the comfortable and explore the world. That's nice, but I was expecting a commentary on environmentalism (it's vaguely implied that the smoke from the fireplaces isn't helping with the weather problems) or consumerism (making things only to destroy them so you can make more things to destroy them, without ever really enjoying the things). Perhaps it's part of the developers' "let the player figure it out" motto, but by letting their other themes go to the wayside in favor of that single message, they left me feeling a bit disappointed.

Ooh, no wait: After stoking my interest with a strong tone, Little Inferno ultimately left me cold.

Nailed it.

Oh, and this is the 900th post. Yeah. In your face, world.

Later Days.

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