Some games tear up the rulebook. The first thing you do in Little Inferno is burn one. A stylus swish flicks your fireplace's user manual into the hearth and a second prod applies the flame. Hold it nearby and the edges singe and smoke. Stick the spark right in the heart and the pages go up in a whoomf.
That's all the instruction you need: burn. Burn paper, pirates, mushrooms, radios and miniature solar systems. Burn corn to make popcorn. Burn a camera, then burn the picture it takes of you burning the camera. That's some meta-burning for you, right there.
The game, in as much as you can call it that, is to torch seven catalogues of increasingly bizarre goods. Coins emerge from the ashes, funding future purchases of inane domestic wares, recalled children toys (the Poo Poo Kitty is a particularly horrible delight) and other oddness we don't want to spoil. Some trinkets burn with alarming realism, others adhere to cartoon logic. So while photos bubble and warp, opera singers warble a tragic swansong as the flames engulf their heads. Discovering what burns is what way is 95 per cent of the game.
The remaining five per cent is eking out combos hinted at by oblique titles such as 'Online Piracy', 'LOL Kitty' and 'Liquid Diet'. Some are simple wordplay - burn a clock and flowers to get 'Springtime', for example - others ask you to manipulate more obscure burning properties. You might grill rainbow bugs to colour the flame, or use pixels to stoke an 8-bit blaze. But while the game is at its best using combos for wackier interactions, too few do. The majority involve torching items of a similar kind, and with no noticeable comic/physics payoff.
Down In Flames
Having whipped us into a frenzy of wanton experimentation, Tomorrow Corporation douses the flames of creativity with needless item delivery times. Express tokens (earned through combos) move things along in the early stretches of the game, but our tokens were thin on the ground by the time we hit four-minute waits in the final catalogue. That's 240 seconds of your life staring at an empty fireplace. Factor in the fact that you'll waste loads of items trying to nail the last few combos and the final portion of the game becomes a real slog.
Is it all a swipe at a gross consumerist society's hunger for instant gratification? Regular letters from gaunt children and a creepy weatherman certainly suggest there's something bubbling beneath Little Inferno's surface. These bizarre memos talk of endless snow and fireplace secrets. Paired with nice Danny Elfman-like music these notes set an intriguingly mysterious tone - until we chuck them on the flames, that is.
It's a cool breadcrumb trail that lends Little Inferno some much-needed narrative structure: a distant promise that there's more to it than screaming dolls and flaming moustaches. Does it amount to anything? Team ONM are split over the 'quirky' conclusion. Hey, at least you don't have to play for long to reach it - you'll hit the required 45 combos and unlock all the catalogues in a leisurely three hours.
And three hours of silliness for £12.99 is too rich our blood. Little Inferno is exactly the kind of indie oddity we want in eShop, but that price is for people with money to burn. Oh, the irony.
Little Inferno is one of the best Wii U eShop games