If pyromania and consumerism had a video game lovechild, it would be Little Inferno. The gameplay sounds mind-numbingly boring: you sit in front of a fireplace, buy things from catalogues, burn them, and collect money from the ashes to buy more things. To unlock new catalogues, you have to burn cryptically-named combinations, which can be immensely satisfying when successful. For example, the “time bomb” combines an alarm clock and a mini-nuke. Who would have thought? And as burning things is the only way to advance the game, that’s what you’ll spend a lot of your time doing.
True, burning random things is gratifying. The fire animation is hypnotic, with a deliciously convincing crackle and glow. Additionally, each item has different properties when it catches fire, which is interesting to discover, especially with the game’s quirky art. Items change color, make noise and animate when they come in contact with flames. (Admittedly, there’s a bit of schadenfreude when the school bus of screaming children goes alight.)
But something about this game is as consuming as a spark on dry tinder: you’ll find yourself compulsively buying junk just to burn it, and Little Inferno sneakily offers the option for speedier delivery – if you can afford it. The buying-burning cycle becomes mechanical, so you no longer really appreciate the items in and of themselves.
There is narrative as well, and it’s so crafty that it’s easy to miss how sinister it is. Along with your purchases, you occasionally receive letters and gifts from a seemingly sweet neighbor. However, the fact that your inventory is limited will mean you inevitably have to destroy items of sentimental value to make room for more catalogue junk. All of this can be described as a not-so-subtle commentary on consumerism, and the game’s ominous ending reinforces this.
Although the initial gameplay is extremely simplistic, the game is, upon reflection, decidedly dark and complex. As the player you’re also the consumer, and although you will end up contemplating how ironically futile your actions are, this wickedly clever little game is worth trying for the experience.