The Wii U's launch line up included a pretty traditional selection of retail games from big name publishers, from Madden to Call of Duty, but their eShop line up told much a different story. Of the five games that were featured exclusively on the Wii U's digital platform, all of them were from independent studios, and most of them launched with little to no fanfare. When you don’t' hear much about indie games that lands on a digital only platform, it usually doesn't bode well, so it's understandable that players could be weary of trying out these new games. It's even easier to understand why they might be hesitant to test out the quietest of the bunch, Tomorrow Corporation's Little Inferno since it's a game that's mostly about burning things.
Little Inferno is an indie game with an outstanding pedigree. Made by only three guys, Allan Blomquist, Kyle Gabler, and Kyle Gray, who have collectively worked on darling games like World of Goo and Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure, before taking on Little Inferno. While their reputations may precede them, Little Inferno is definitely not the kind of game you would expect to see on a console, much less as a launch title, and that is a good thing, hopefully it's a sign of things to come.
The back-story behind Little Inferno is that it's been snowing for as long as anyone can remember, and you just received a Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace to keep you both warm and entertained. You "play" the game by burning a variety of different items in the fireplace, and seeing what happens. As time passes, and your possessions and memories burn up, a surprisingly endearing story unravels as your neighbor, who is also burning everything they have, communicates with you through letters (which you can subsequently burn up after you've read them). As you progress through the game's catalogs of items, a wide variety of different objects can be purchased via coins that are awarded for burning other items. The items get bigger and weirder, and you're encouraged to make combos, burning two or three related items once, to help unlock more catalogs.
In terms of actual gameplay, Little Inferno is pretty shallow: you take items, put them in your fireplace, light them on fire, watch them burn, and then repeat. Yet, somehow, Tomorrow Corporation managed to keep the pace of the game up so that it never felt boring, or got old. In fact, after only a few minutes of playing, burning virtual objects actually gets to be quite addicting, given how quickly things are unlocked and how challenging the combos are to figure out. This is, in part, due to the assortment of items that can be unlocked, from stuffed bears to nuclear bombs, all of which react differently when thrown in the fireplace. You just keep wanting to watch things burn, over and over, hoping to find out where the story was actually going to go.
Little Inferno feels a lot like an indie experiment from Tomorrow Corporation. It's a compelling game, but three guys can only do so much. Clocking in at about three and a half hours for the full story experience, it could feel a little light for the price ($14.99), but going through to discover all of the game's 99 combos can become an all-consuming task of its own. If you take it at face value, Little Inferno boils down to being a fun game at its core and it's a game that should catch a lot of people by surprise. It's basic concept and gameplay, mixed with a shockingly compelling story, make this one of the Wii U eShop's early highlights. Everyone's got a little virtual arsonist inside of him or her, and Little Inferno helps bring it out, in a safe, and fun way. Oh, and the game has one of the most addictive theme songs since "Still Alive" – be careful how much you listen to it.