By Renan Fontes 19.03.2017
Videogames, more than any other medium, are often under scrutiny as being a "waste of time." As gaming grows and becomes more mainstream that train of thought has started to dwindle, yet that doesn't mean it isn't still present. Little Inferno, for all its morbidity, is in many ways a critique of time-waster criticism and the games that allow such a critique to be relevant. Dark, short, and strangely poignant, Little Inferno is the time wasting videogame all about the dangers of wasting time. Be sure to also check out Cubed3's review of this on Wii U, PC, and Nintendo Switch, and now read on for the verdict on the iOS iteration…
Little Inferno's objective is sweet and to the point: burn things and keep warm. From a catalogue, items can be bought and later burnt for money so that more items can be bought and burnt and, once every item is bought from a catalogue, new catalogues with new items can be bought. From its first hour to its last, the experience is entirely consistent. A combo system is introduced right at the beginning where certain items must be burned together for extra coins and progression purposes, and it's through the combo system that Tomorrow Corporation's simple-but-brilliant design shines most.
In many way, Little Inferno is like a puzzle. The upper right corner leads to a list of combos with titles that act as hints to which items pair up. Item combinations are simple and obvious at first, with just one catalogue, but as new items get unlocked and new combos become available, deciphering each title gets harder. While combos add a layer of creativity to the experience, it makes no attempt at hiding the fact that the core design is really just about waiting for time to pass. Letters will occasionally arrive, giving a sense of the world outside, but, for the most part, burning catalogue-bought toys is meant to be a lonely and patient endeavour.
Stamps can be gained from successfully deciphering combos that can, in turn, be used to speed up the wait time between buying an item and having it shipped, but it doesn't really change much - and thankfully so. Cooldowns may be abundant but Little Inferno would lose some great thematic cohesion without them. The world is cold and only getting colder, and all anyone does it sit by their fireplace waiting around to get warm.
As the story progresses, and more catalogues are bought, cooldowns get longer and the atmosphere gets increasingly sombre. Tomorrow Corporation engages it audience by offering a narrative that criticises wasting time through design that forces time to be wasted. A lesser developer would have made this more apparent by making the time wasting aspect obvious or boring, but Tomorrow Corporation rightfully chooses to remember that videogames are a medium that shine best when the interactive and non-interactive parts mesh as one whole.
Little Inferno is well written, fun, and, first and foremost, thoughtful. Its short length is remedied by a combo list that creates replayability without ever directly incentivising it, and the sporadic story beats only serve to bolster the sombre, dreary atmosphere. There are better stories in gaming, but the way Tomorrow Corporate tells Little Inferno's is a reminder that even the best written videogames might lack the narrative and gameplay cohesion present here. With plenty to appreciate and analyse, never has a waste of time felt like such a worthy time killer.